An acoustic neuroma is also called an acoustic or vestibular schwannoma. It is a benign tumor that forms from Schwann cells. The Schwann cells are found in the vestibular and cochlear nerves in your ear. Your vestibular nerves help control your balance and make it possible for you to hear. Schwann cells wrap around the nerves to protect them. The tumor is usually slow growing and may press on the nerves of your ear. Acoustic neuromas normally only occur on one side, but can occur in both ears. With treatment, your symptoms, such as trouble hearing and poor balance, may improve or go away.
Acoustic neuromas occur when your Schwann cells grow without control or order. The excess cells group together and form a tumor. The exact cause of the tumor is not clear. Doctors believe an acoustic neuroma may be caused by damaged genes. Genes are little pieces of information that tell your cells how to grow and what to do. Acoustic neuromas also may occur in people who have a condition called neurofibromatosis 2.
Signs and symptoms
When you have an acoustic neuroma, you may have partial or total hearing loss in one or both ears. You may have times when your hearing is normal and times when you cannot hear well at all. You also may have the following:
- Numbness or weakness in your face and facial twitching
- Tinnitus (ringing in your ear)
- Trouble walking and poor balance
- Decreased tears or dryness in your eye on the tumor side
- Metal taste in your mouth
Tell your doctor about any symptoms you are having. Also tell your doctor if you have any medical conditions. You may need the following tests:
- Audiometry testing: This hearing test checks how sensitive your ears are to sounds at different volumes. The hearing tests may include pure-tone audiometry and speech discrimination tests. These tests may check your type of hearing loss and the extent of your hearing loss.
- Computed tomography scan: During a computed tomography (CT) scan, a special X-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your brain. The scan may show your acoustic neuroma and if it is pressing on any brain tissue or nerves. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken. The dye may help your caregiver see the pictures better.
- Magnetic resonance imaging: During magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), pictures are taken of your brain.
The goal of treatment is to decrease your symptoms and slow or stop the growth of the tumor. Treatment may be done to remove part or all of your tumor. You may need any of the following treatments:
- Steroid medication: This is used to decrease inflammation.
- Observation: When your tumor is small and causing few or no symptoms, you may only need observation. This treatment includes watching the growth of your tumor and for changes in your condition and symptoms. You may need repeat MRI scans to check for any tumor growth over time.
- Radiation: You may need radiation to shrink or destroy your tumor. Radiation is commonly done for small- to medium-sized tumors. Radio surgery is a single treatment where high doses of radiation are directed at the tumor to destroy it. You also may have radiation therapy where the dose of radiation is divided into many treatments.
- Surgery: Surgery may be needed if your tumor is large or pressing against your brain tissues. There are three different surgeries that can be done to remove your tumor. The surgery you have done will depend on the size and location of your tumor. Your level of hearing loss will also help decide which surgery is best for you. Radiation therapy may be done after your surgery to destroy any remaining tumor cells.
For more information about DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital’s audiology and hearing services or to make an appointment, call 313-966-4725.