Acoustic Neuroma comes in many names. It is also called Vestibular Schwannoma and Acoustic Neurilemoma. All these terms pertain to a benign tumor that develops on the cranial nerve which goes from the brain to the inner ear. Benign means that the tumor is not spreading. The tumor grows and develops when the cells covering the nerve fibers grow and multiply uncontrollably. The growth and development of this tumor is usually at a very slow pace.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one out of 100,000 people develop acoustic neuroma each year. Studies done in Denmark indicate that the frequency rate for this condition is 17.4 out of one million people. That is equivalent to two out of 100,000 people.
There is no definitive cause known, although some researchers think that it may be due to a malfunction in a gene on chromosome 22. Some studies suggest that constant exposure to loud noise can also play a role.
Acoustic neuroma comes in two types: unilateral (one ear affected) and bilateral (both ears affected). Experts say that the unilateral type is not hereditary but the bilateral type is. It is linked to a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF 2).
When the tumor grows in size, this can cause serious problems, such as:
Because there is pressure on the balance and hearing nerve, this may lead to hearing loss in one or both ears.
- facial muscles
Facial paralysis and weakness may occur.
Other effects are balance problems, dizziness, and tinnitus (ringing sound/sensation in the ear).
Diagnostic techniques for this condition include:
- ear exams
- hearing tests
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
The presence of the signs and symptoms help in the diagnosis of the condition. A person who has problems with hearing and balance as well as facial paralysis or weakness may be recommended to undergo further tests to confirm if the condition is indeed acoustic neuroma.
There are two primary ways to treat this condition:
Both these treatments seek to remove the tumor. It is very important to do so because if the tumor grows too big, it may inflict even more serious effects apart from those mentioned above like hearing loss, balance problems, and facial weakness or paralysis. In fact, the tumor might become fatal by pressing on the brainstem. It's imperative to remove the tumor as early as possible.
Apart from the treatment, it would help a lot to seek support from other people as this can be a difficult time. Support groups provide emotional support that help patients traverse the road to recovery more effectively.
In the United States, there is an organization called Acoustic Neuroma Association, which has spread various support groups all over the country. This organization also holds a national conference on this condition to raise awareness for the patients, their families, and the general public.