An acoustic neuroma, also known as vestibular schwannoma, is a slow-growing non-cancerous brain tumour. However, it can affect your balance and hearing – let’s take a closer look.
What is an acoustic neuroma?
Acoustic neuromas are benign (non-cancerous) brain tumours that grow on the nerves used for hearing and balance. They tend to grow very slowly but can cause hearing loss and unsteadiness. The condition usually affects people between the ages of 30 and 60.
Acoustic neuromas have been linked to a genetic condition but, on the whole, they have no obvious cause.
Symptoms of an acoustic neuroma
At first you might not notice any obvious symptoms of an acoustic neuroma as the symptoms tend to gradually develop over time. These symptoms often include:
In some cases, you might feel like you can hear noises from inside your head, when there is no obvious external source.
This is known as tinnitus, it’s often described as a ringing or a buzzing noise.
If you have the sensation that you are moving or spinning it could be that the acoustic neuroma is affecting your balance – this is known as vertigo but, as a symptom, vertigo has many other causes.
If the acoustic neuroma is quite large you may also notice it affects your vision (double vision or blurred vision), you might have persistent headaches, a numb or painful feeling on your face and even difficulty swallowing. This is because the tumour is pressing on nerves that affect the face, blood vessels in the brain or, in rare cases, the brain stem which will also impact other areas of your body.
What causes an acoustic neuroma?
There is no obvious cause for acoustic neuroma, but a small number of cases have been linked to a genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis type 2. Inherited from one parent who is a carrier of this genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis type 2 causes tumours to grow along the nerves – more often in the brain - although they are usually non-cancerous.
How is an acoustic neuroma diagnosed?
If you are experiencing these symptoms, your GP may refer you for a hearing test. Our audiologists will be able to determine if any hearing loss is caused by affected nerves which might indicate an acoustic neuroma. From there, they can refer you to hospital for further testing which may involve an MRI or a CT scan.
If you are worried about your symptoms or they are bothering you, we'd recommend seeing your GP or booking an appointment with our audiologists.
Treatment for an acoustic neuroma
The initial steps for an acoustic neuroma will be to monitor it using MRI scans. This will allow your specialist to determine the growth and location of the tumour, in addition to observing your symptoms and overall health.
If the tumour becomes large enough to create serious health issues, then brain surgery may be required to remove it. While surgery does come with risks, your specialist will discuss all this with you. Radiotherapy is also an option to remove smaller tumours or pieces of larger tumours that surgery couldn’t eradicate.