An acoustic neuroma is a rare noncancerous tumor that develops on the main (vestibular) nerve leading from your inner ear to your brain. It grows slowly when the body produces too many Schwann cells (a type of cell that wraps around nerve fibers, jelly-roll fashion, forming the myelin sheath). An acoustic neuroma may also be called a vestibular schwannoma.
There are two types of acoustic neuromas:
- Unilateral acoustic neuroma: This type affects only one ear and is the most common type of acoustic neuroma. It may develop at any age, but most often appears between the ages of 30 and 60.
- Bilateral acoustic neuroma: This type affects both ears and is inherited.
The Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Cooper University Health Care has a team of fellowship-trained ear, nose, and throat specialists with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating acoustic neuromas.
Risk Factors for Acoustic Neuroma
Unilateral acoustic neuromas can be associated with:
- Continuous exposure to loud noise, such as music or work-related noise
- Exposure to neck or face radiation, which can lead to the development of an acoustic neuroma years later
Bilateral acoustic neuromas are associated with a disease called neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), which runs in families:
- People with NF2 are at higher risk of developing bilateral acoustic neuromas
Symptoms of Acoustic Neuroma
As an acoustic neuroma grows, it can press on the nerves that control hearing and balance in the inner ear. A large tumor can press on the facial nerve or brain structures. If the tumor gets big enough, it can press against the brain stem, which can affect neurological function or even become life-threatening.
These are the most common symptoms of acoustic neuroma:
- Hearing loss on one side, particularly an inability to hear high-frequency sounds
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- A ringing in the ear (tinnitus) on the side of the tumor
- Balance problems or unsteadiness
- Facial numbness and tingling with possible, though rare, facial paralysis
- Clumsy gait (walk)
- Mental confusion
How Acoustic Neuroma is Diagnosed
Because acoustic neuromas often look like other middle- and inner-ear problems, they can be hard to diagnose, which is why it’s important to see a specialist. The following tests are part of a diagnostic workup for acoustic neuroma:
- An ear exam and a hearing test are usually performed first
- Diagnostic imaging is the next step
- A computerized tomography (CT) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan helps to locate and measure the tumor
How Acoustic Neuroma is Treated
Treatment depends on your age, overall health, the size of your tumor, and how severe your symptoms are. Treatment may include:
- Watchful waiting to monitor your tumor if it’s small, poses no risk to brain function, and is not causing troublesome symptoms
- Surgery to remove the tumor (surgical removal of larger tumors can damage hearing, balance, and facial nerves)
- Radiosurgery, a form of radiation therapy that uses extremely precise radiation beams to reduce the size or slow the growth of the tumor.
Why Choose Us to Treat Acoustic Neuroma
Experience in treating acoustic neuroma, particularly with surgery, has been shown to be a key factor in producing good patient outcomes and minimizing the risk of complications.
As part of South Jersey’s only tertiary-care, academic medical center, Cooper’s ENT specialists have extensive experience in treating this relatively rare condition, and they are on the leading edge of the latest medical and surgical advances for doing so.
To learn more about the services available in the Division of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856-342-3113.