An acoustic neuroma (also called vestibular schwannoma) is a benign tumor. Benign means that the growth is not a cancer. It grows slowly and will not spread to other parts of your body. Acoustic neuromas grow on a nerve behind your ear, right under your brain. This nerve sends information about sound and balance from the inner ear to the brain.
Acoustic neuromas are rare and they usually only grow behind one ear. Most people who have one are 30 to 60 years of age.
When an acoustic neuroma grows, it pushes on the nerve. This usually causes symptoms such as:
- Losing some hearing in the affected ear.
- Ringing in your ear.
- Feeling dizzy or losing your balance.
- Vertigo (you feel like you are moving or things are moving around you).
- Feeling numb in your face if the tumor is large.
We do not know what causes acoustic neuromas to grow. Some people have the tumor on both sides and in these cases, it is often hereditary (passed on through your family’s genes).
The most useful test is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head. A large machine uses magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. This is the best test because it can show tumors that are very small.
Other tests include:
- Head CT – this test provides very detailed images of bone, soft tissue and blood vessels.
- Hearing test
- VNG (Videonystagmography) and Video Head Impulse Test (vHIT) that look at your balance and equilibrium. They are used to see if an inner ear condition may be causing a balance and dizziness problem.
- ABR (Auditory Brainstem Evoked Potentials). This test looks at how well your brainstem is working. This test evaluates how well sound travels along your hearing nerve pathways from the ear to the brainstem.
There are 3 options for treatment:
Monitoring the tumor
Many acoustic neuromas are very small and grow very slowly. You may choose this option if your tumor is small and you have few to no symptoms. You will have regular MRIs to watch the growth.
This is the best option if the tumor is larger. It may be causing too many symptoms, growing quickly or growing near other nerves or part of the brain that may cause problems or damage.
Radiation is used for:
- Tumors that may be hard to remove.
- Patients who cannot have surgery.
- Patients who have acoustic neuromas on both sides.
- Patients that can only hear in the ear that has the tumor.