Acoustic neuromas develop in the ear and can affect both hearing and balance. While surgery isn’t always the preferred treatment for an acoustic neuroma, a professional audiologist should monitor the neuroma closely to make sure that it doesn’t lead to other complications.

illustration of the ear and acoustic neuroma

What Is Acoustic Neuroma?

An acoustic neuroma is also commonly known as a vestibular schwannoma. It’s a rare, non-cancerous tumor that develops on the eighth cranial nerve running from the inner ear to the brain. The eighth cranial nerve has branches that directly influence balance and hearing. 

There are two types of acoustic neuromas: unilateral and bilateral. A unilateral acoustic neuroma is more common and only affects one ear. The tumor can develop at any age but most often affects patients between 30 and 60. A bilateral acoustic neuroma is an inherited condition affecting both ears. 

Typically, acoustic neuromas are slow-growing tumors. 

What Causes an Acoustic Neuroma?

Acoustic neuromas develop as a result of a problem with a gene on chromosome 22 that normally produces a tumor suppressor protein. This protein manages the growth of the Schwann cells. The Schwann cells form a layer that insulates all nerves of the peripheral nervous system, including the eighth cranial nerve. 

Acoustic neuromas are benign tumors made up of an overgrowth of Schwann cells, which is why many physicians call the condition vestibular schwannoma.

A patient who has undergone radiation in their head or neck is more likely to develop acoustic neuroma many years later. However, the only confirmed risk factor for developing acoustic neuroma is having a parent with the rare genetic disorder neurofibromatosis type 2.

Symptoms of an Acoustic Neuroma

Acoustic neuroma symptoms often go unnoticed due to the slow-growing nature of the tumor and its location. However, the initial acoustic neuroma symptom in 90% of patients is hearing loss in the affected ear.

Other acoustic neuroma symptoms include:

  • Inability to hear high-frequency sounds in the affected ear
  • Pressure or full feeling in the affected ear
  • Tinnitus on the tumor side
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Vertigo
  • Facial numbness or tingling
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Clumsy gait

Acoustic neuroma symptoms mimic other conditions. When bringing their concerns to their general practitioner, patients who don’t receive a firm diagnosis should see an auditory specialist for a complete evaluation.

Acoustic Neuroma Treatment

Acoustic neuroma treatments vary depending on the tumor’s current size and growth speed, the patient’s health, and the severity of the symptoms.

There are three potential options in acoustic neuroma treatment: monitoring, surgery, or radiation therapy. 

Monitoring

Patients with a small acoustic neuroma that’s growing slowly and causes few symptoms may just need medical monitoring until it becomes a problem requiring more aggressive treatment. 

Most monitoring plans involve regular imaging (MRI) tests and hearing evaluations, scheduled every six to twelve months. Through close medical monitoring, your audiologist can keep track of any progressive symptoms, growth, or other concerns requiring further treatment. 

Surgery

Patients whose acoustic neuroma is large, growing, and causing symptoms may require surgery. Acoustic neuroma surgery aims to remove as much of the tumor as possible while preserving the facial nerve, so patients don’t experience facial paralysis. 

In some cases, the tumor is too close to important parts of the brain or facial nerves, so your surgeon will need to remove only the parts of the tumor that are causing symptoms. 

Radiation Therapy

Multiple types of radiation therapy are used in acoustic neuroma treatments for patients who cannot tolerate surgery, have a smaller tumor, or are older adults. These treatments include stereotactic radiosurgery, also called gamma knife radiosurgery, stereotactic radiotherapy, and proton beam therapy. 

All three treatments are precision-focused, strategically targeting the tumor and stopping its growth.

Get Tested Today

While rare, an untreated acoustic neuroma can become large enough to press against the brain stem and interfere with movement, cognition, and brain function. Patients experiencing hearing loss in one ear, tinnitus, or struggling with balance should see a professional audiologist, like the specialized team at Happy Ears Hearing Center

Obtaining an early acoustic neuroma diagnosis can keep the tumor from growing to a size that causes significant consequences like total hearing loss or facial paralysis. 

If you’re concerned about your hearing and the health of your ears, schedule an appointment with the professional audiologist team at Happy Ears Hearing Center in Mesa, Surprise, and Peoria, Arizona. Call or book your appointment online today.