What is acoustic neuroma?
Acoustic neuroma is a tumor that affects the nerves found in the brain. Nerves connect one part of the brain to another part of the brain. Some of them can even travel as far as outside the brain to connect with the different parts of the body. There is a nerve that connects the brain to the ear. That nerve is called the acoustic nerve. When a tumor grows on this nerve, it is called an acoustic neuroma.
Although an acoustic neuroma lacks the ability to spread in the body, it can grow really big to the extent that neighboring nerves involved in vital body functions could be affected.
Their occurrences are very rare. They are as rare as 1 in every 50,000 people as submitted by the Acoustic Neuroma Association.
Symptoms of acoustic neuroma
Acoustic neuroma usually presents with symptoms when the tumors are large and have begun affecting nerves and blood vessels surrounding them.
A very typical feature is a progressive and even sometimes, sudden hearing loss on one part of the head. Other features are dizziness, vertigo, facial numbness, general body weakness, poor balance, and ringing in the ears.
The less common symptoms you might have are;
- Mild to a serious headache
- Visual challenges
- Speech comprehension challenges
- Atypical pain in the ear and face
- Numbness especially in the ear and face
- An unusual weakness of the body
Photo Credit: Mayo Clinic
Risk factors for acoustic neuroma
Neurofibromatosis-2 is the most common risk factor. A parent with this disorder can transmit it to his child. And one interesting thing about acoustic neuroma is that it can just decide to appear any time it so wishes – that is called spontaneous!
Other unproven risk factors for an acoustic neuroma include; noncancerous tumor of the thyroid, high pitched sound, and exposure to low concentration of radiation at infancy.
Diagnosis of acoustic neuroma
Take note of any hearing difficulty or neurologic manifestations. Your doctor will need detailed information related to this from you when you visit him for appropriate diagnosis.
The tests that will be carried out on you include;
- A hearing test: There are different hearing tests that can be conducted on you. Your doctor will figure out which will be the most appropriate.
- Tests on the brainstem to assess both hearing and neurological integrity will also be conducted on you. It is called brainstem auditory evoked response test.
- Electronystagmography: This is a test for the eyes. The problem of the inner ear can affect eye movements. This test will assess the variations in the movement of your eyes as compared to the normal.
- An examination on the inner part of your head can also be done using either an MRI or a CT. A better view of your brain can be seen with any of these examinations. It will reveal any abnormalities in your brain.
Treatment for acoustic neuroma
Different factors spell out treatment options. Factors like your overall health, tumor size, and age are the most important factors that your doctor will consider before he begins treatment on you. There are times that you might not even need any treatment especially when the acoustic neuroma is small. Cases like this just need a close monitoring – using an MRI – by your doctor.
There are times that a failure to treat it can further increase fluid build-up inside the brain, a medical condition called hydrocephalus.
Stereotactic radiosurgery can be used to surgically remove very small tumors in a noninvasive manner. It is also an alternative to surgery when it has become risky for the patient due to health reasons, and perhaps due to a residual tumor after a surgery. The radiation is exposed to a mapped out an area of your head. The radiating effects on your brain can take several months and even years for the tumor to heal.
If your tumor is a very large one and it is beginning to spread to vital areas of your brain, then an invasive surgical intervention will be necessary. The tumor can be removed through your ears or through your skull. Your doctor determines that. As for its recovery time, it can last for as long as several weeks; although shorter recovery time i.e. a few days, have been reported.
Complications associated with a surgery are;
- Total hearing loss
- Fatigued facial muscles
- Ringing in your ears
- Cerebrospinal fluid leakage from the point of surgical incision
- Body movement imbalance
- Recurrent headaches
You can preserve your hearing function if talk to your doctor the moment you begin to experience the symptoms that accompany neuroma. It is quite hard for hearing to be restored after it has been lost before treatment begins.