An acoustic neuroma, or vestibular schwannoma, is a noncancerous tumor that grows on the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. Typically, acoustic neuromas grow slowly, often over a period of years, and can take some time before symptoms become noticeable.
Dr. Clinton Baird, Medical Director of Neurosurgery Services at our hospital in Tulsa, says, “Even if it is very small, an acoustic neuroma can cause symptoms. This is because the tumor can press on the vestibular nerve, which controls your sense of balance and orientation in physical space. It can cause severe dizziness and vertigo.”
In addition, Dr. Baird says hearing loss in the affected ear often occurs. Other symptoms of acoustic neuromas include:
- Ringing in the affected ear (tinnitus)
- Numbness or pain in the affected ear
- Weakness, numbness and/or pain in the face
- A sense of clumsiness (feeling somewhat wobbly or intoxicated)
Acoustic neuromas normally range in size from less than 1.5 cm to larger than 2.5 cm. As the tumors grow, they can press against nerves that control muscles for facial expression and cause numbness or paralysis. Acoustic neuromas that grow large enough to push on the brain stem and cerebellum can cause severe pressure, interfere with vital functions and be life threatening.
According to the Acoustic Neuroma Association, people between the ages of 30 and 60 are most often diagnosed with acoustic neuromas. A rare genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis type 2 can cause acoustic neuromas to develop in both ears. Neurofibromatosis accounts for about 5 percent of acoustic neuroma cases.
A series of tests, including ear exams, hearing tests and a CT scan or MRI (preferred), are performed to determine if an acoustic neuroma is present.
Treatment for acoustic neuromas may consist of surgery to remove all or part of the tumor or radiation treatment to slow or stop the tumor from growing. Acoustic neuromas which cause few symptoms and are small may only require observation with routine checkups and periodic MRI scans.
Learn more about different types of brain tumors and view a Q&A with Dr. Baird.