An acoustic neuroma is a rare slow-growing tumour which results from the sheath surrounding 'vestibulocochlear' nerve. The 'vestibulocochlear' nerve is the eighth cranial nerve that connects the ear to the brain. The nerve is located behind the ear, under the brain and helps you to hear and maintain balance of posture. 20 people in every million in the population develop acoustic neuroma every year. The tumour is more common in women as compared with men and in older people (between 40 and 60 years of age). It rarely affects children.
An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumour (noncancerous) that therefore, does not spread to other parts of the body. It can damage several important structures (nerves, brain stem, and cerebellum) owning to its location in the brain as it gradually grows.
The signs and symptoms depend on the size and location of the tumour and usually surface after the age of 30 (as it is a slow growing tumour). Some of the symptoms of acoustic neuroma include:
In the initial stages of tumour, a person may not show any symptom, but as the tumour grows, it eventually becomes symptomatic. Considering that many middle and inner ear problems cause similar symptoms, the tumour can be difficult to diagnose in its infancy. If your doctor suspects acoustic neuroma based on your medical history and examination of your nervous system, he or she will recommend tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI) is a painless and non-invasive test that is a handy resource to confirm the presence of acoustic neuroma. Some other useful tests to diagnose the tumour include Computerized tomography (CT) scan of the head and hearing test (audiology), brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER).
Treatment is decided based on several factors such as the size and location of the tumour, its symptoms, your age and overall health. If the tumour is small and slow-growing, it may not need treatment. Your health care provider may recommend monitoring and regular MRI scans, but, before the tumour becomes symptomatic, the doctor may recommend surgery or radiotherapy to destroy the tumour.
Treatment of acoustic neuroma is more commonly done if the tumour is large, is surfacing symptoms, is growing quickly or is near a nerve or in that part of the brain that is vulnerable to cause problems. Treatment options for acoustic neuroma include surgery (to remove the tumour) or radiotherapy (to destroy the tumour). Your doctor will discuss and decide the treatment that is best for you. If acoustic neuroma is not treated on time, it can cause complications such as buildup of fluid (hydrocephalus) in the brain, which can be life-threatening, and can cause damage to the nerves to the face.