by Kimberly Allen, RN
Acoustic neuromas are also called vestibular Schwannomas. They are slow growing benign, in other words non cancerous, tumors. They can develop in anyone though they are more common in men than women and they usually develop between 30 to 60 years of age. In the US there are around 3,000 new cases diagnosed every year. They account for 80% of all tumors located in an area called the cerebellopntine angle which is the area of the brain near the pons and cerebellum.
Acoustic neuromas form on the 8th cranial nerve which is the main nerve that goes from your inner ear to your brain. The branches of this nerve have a direct connection with balance and hearing. Acoustic neuromas put pressure on these nerves causing a loss of balance, ringing in your ear as well as hearing loss.
Acoustic neuromas are believed to be associated with a gene on chromosome 22 that is malfunctioning. This gene normally produces a protein that assists in controlling the growth of Schwan cells that covers the nerves. Scientists are not sure why the gene malfunctions, however they do know that the malfunctioning gene is inherited in approximately half of the people with neurofibromatosis II. There is also another type of acoustic neuroma that is a sporadic type. Sporadic acoustic neuromas account for around 95% of all diagnosed acoustic neuromas. Sporadic acoustic neuromas are considered to be unilateral, meaning only 1 ear is affected. The cause of this type if acoustic neuroma is unknown, however, there have been some studies that indicate they are associated with protracted exposure to loud noises and extensive cell phone use.
The symptoms of an acoustic neuroma occur due to the pressure of the tumor on the surrounding nerves and blood vessels. The most common symptoms of an acoustic neuroma is hearing loss, which manifests in over 95% of patients. There is a unilateral hearing impairment that progresses slowly in approximately 90% of those with an acoustic neuroma. Most people with an acoustic neuroma experience a high frequency hearing loss while others experience low frequency hearing loss. Other symptoms of an acoustic neuroma inicludes a ringing or ¨buzzing¨in your ear, vertigo and impaired balance as well as facial weakness and numbness. Occasionally an acoustic neuroma grows large enough to put pressure on the brain stem becoming life threatening.
Currently there are three main treatments available for acoustic neuromas. They include monitoring, radiation and surgery. If your acoustic neuroma is small and not growing or growing very slowly and you have minimal or no symptoms your doctor may recommend monitoring it, especially if you are an older adult. If your tumor is larger and causing symptoms your Dr may recommend sterostatic radiosurgery, like gama knife radio-surgery. This type of surgery allows the Dr to deliver radiation to the tumor without making an incision. This type of treatment is aimed at stopping the growth of the tumor. Then there is surgical removal. Due to the increased potential for complications this treatment is reserved for those with large acoustic neuromas causing significant impairment.
Once diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma even though they are benign can cause a great deal of stress. Coping with the possible hearing loss as well as facial paralysis and trying to decide which treatment you and your doctor feel is best for your situation can be very stressful. Its important to educate yourself on acoustic neuromas because the more you know the better equipped are to make decisions regarding treatment. And always remember te support of family and friends can be a tremendous help in difficult times.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.