What is acoustic neuroma?

Acoustic neuroma is a rare type of benign (noncancerous) tumor. It happens when special cells, called Schwann cells, overgrow on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain. These Schwann cells wrap around nerve cells and insulate them, so when they’re overgrown, it can cause problems with the nerve.

What are the symptoms of acoustic neuroma?

Since acoustic neuroma involves the nerve that connects the ear to the brain, symptoms usually start in the ear. These can include:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in one ear)
  • Hearing loss on one side
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness, clumsiness or balance problems
  • A sense of fullness in the ear
  • Headaches

Acoustic neuroma tumors grow very slowly, so these symptoms build gradually over time. Eventually, the tumor can get big enough to start pushing against other nerves, which can lead to weak muscles in the face.

What can I do to prevent acoustic neuroma?

One of the main causes of acoustic neuroma is ongoing exposure to loud noises. If you’re using headphones, resist the urge to crank up the volume. Use ear protection if your job involves a lot of loud noises. In rare cases, a genetic problem can cause acoustic neuroma. People with an inherited condition called neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2) have a higher risk of developing acoustic neuroma. NF2 causes tumors to grow on nerve tissue, including the nerve where acoustic neuroma develops.

Diagnosing acoustic neuroma

The source of ear symptoms can be tough to determine—and acoustic neuroma can look like other ear conditions—so several tests are needed to diagnose it. These might include:

  • An ear exam
  • Special hearing tests
  • Imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan

Since acoustic neuroma affects the nerves, you might also need tests that check how well the nerves are working, such as:

  • Tests that check how quickly your brain processes sounds
  • Tests that check eye movements to gauge balance

You'll l work with a team of specialists to diagnose and treat acoustic neuroma, including an otolaryngologist—an ear, nose and throat specialist. You may also work with a radiation oncologist or a neurosurgeon.

Treatments to get you back in balance

Often, the treatment for acoustic neuroma is just to watch and wait. These tumors grow slowly, so it may take a long time for them to cause any noticeable problems. Depending on the size of the tumor when it’s detected, you may need surgery or radiation.

Another treatment option is stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS). SRS uses a pinpoint beam of radiation to remove or shrink a tumor. With the beam being so precise, neurosurgeons can target the tumor directly without affecting any of the other tissues around it.

Acoustic neuroma can be an intimidating diagnosis, but with advanced diagnostic tools and treatment techniques, you’re in good hands with the Main Line Heath team.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.