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What is Acoustic Neuroma?

Acoustic Neuroma

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Updated May 20, 2009

Acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor affecting the nerves which run from the inner ear to the brain. Acoustic neuroma has several other names including acoustic neurinoma, vestibular schwannoma, and auditory tumor. Normal healthy nerves are covered by a layer of cells called Schwann cells which function the same way that rubber or plastic coating on electrical wires work, providing insulation and support for nerve impulses. When these cells begin to grow and multiply at an abnormal rate, acoustic neuroma occurs. Acoustic neuroma is often associated with neurofibromatosis.

Symptoms of Acoustic Neuroma

Acoustic neuroma inhibits the normal function of the nerves responsible for hearing and balance. Symptoms of acoustic neuroma include:

If the tumor presses against the facial nerve, symptoms may also include:

  • facial numbness
  • facial weakness
  • facial paralysis

While acoustic neuroma is a slow-growing tumor, if it is untreated it can become so large that it pushes against vital brain structures and may become life threatening.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of acoustic neuroma can be difficult (especially if the tumor is small) because the symptoms coincide with many other inner ear disorders. Some of the most useful tests used to diagnose this condition are:

Treatment

Treatment usually involves surgical removal of the tumor. However, if the tumor is small and asymptomatic, the patient and doctor may opt to monitor the tumor. This is also the case if the patient is not a good candidate for surgery such as elderly patients who have a history of heart and lung disease. The surgical excision of the tumor carries several risks including the risk that the nerves surrounding the tumor may be damaged. This is particularly true if the tumor is very large. Other options for treatment involve radiation therapy or radiosurgery. Both of these treatments are aimed at reducing the size of the tumor.

Sources:

Medline Plus.Acoustic Neuroma. Accessed: February 21, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/acousticneuroma.html.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Vestibular Schwannoma (Acoustic Neuroma) and Fibromatosis. Accessed: February 21, 2009 from http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/acoustic_neuroma.asp

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