Acoustic neuroma, also called vestibular schwannoma, is a noncancerous tumour usually seen in middle-aged people. It develops gradually on the main nerve leading from the inner ear to the brain. This nerve controls hearing and balance. So, as the acoustic neuroma grows, it leads to hearing loss and problems with balance.
The symptoms of acoustic neuroma are subtle and therefore, tend to be overlooked. The most prominent symptom is loss in hearing in one ear accompanied by a ringing sensation in the ear, called tinnitus. Other symptoms include loss of balance, dizziness, facial weakness and numbness.
There are no established causes for this condition, except for a malfunctioning gene. The reason for the malfunctioning has not been found till date.
The chances of acquiring this condition are high if either of the parents has neurofibromatosis (a rare genetic disorder). Yet another risk factor is child-hood exposure to low-dose radiation of the head and neck.
As the symptoms develop slowly over a period of time and resemble middle ear and inner ear problems, detection of the tumour becomes difficult. Your doctor may order a hearing test (audiometry) and scans (CT or MRI) to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment method to be adopted depends on factors such as size and growth of the tumour, its location, patient’s age, and physical health. If the tumour is small, then the doctor may conduct only a regular check-up. He may decide to monitor the tumour by ordering regular imaging and hearing tests at intervals of 6 to 12 months.
Other treatment methods include stereotactic radiosurgery (non-invasive treatment that delivers gamma radiation at the tumour site without making an incision) and surgical removal of the tumour.