Acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannoma)
An acoustic neuroma is a type of non-cancerous (benign) nerve tumour. It's also known as a vestibular schwannoma. They are most common in adults aged 30-60. You should see your GP if you persistent symptoms like those of an acoustic neuroma (see symptoms section below).
About an acoustic neuroma
An acoustic neuroma is a type of non-cancerous (benign) tumour that grows on a nerve close to the brain. A benign tumour is a growth that usually grows slowly over many years and doesn't spread to other parts of the body.
Acoustic neuromas grow on the nerve used for hearing and balance, causing problems such as hearing loss and unsteadiness. They can be serious if they become very large, but most are picked up and treated before they reach this stage.
Acoustic neuromas have no obvious cause, although a small number of cases are the result of a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2).
Symptoms of an acoustic neuroma
An acoustic neuroma may not cause any obvious symptoms at first.
Any symptoms tend to develop gradually and often include:
- hearing loss that usually only affects one ear
- tinnitus (hearing sounds that come from inside the body)
- vertigo (the sensation that you're moving or spinning)
A large acoustic neuroma can also sometimes cause:
- persistent headaches
- temporary blurred or double vision
- numbness, pain or weakness on one side of the face
- problems with limb co-ordination (ataxia) on one side of the body
- a hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have persistent or troublesome symptoms that you're worried could be caused by an acoustic neuroma.
Acoustic neuromas can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be caused by other conditions, such as Ménière's disease.
If your GP thinks you could have an acoustic neuroma, you'll be referred to a hospital or clinic for further tests, such as:
- hearing tests to check for hearing problems and decide whether they're caused by a problem with your nerves
- an MRI scan, which uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed picture of the inside of your head
- a CT scan, which uses a series of X-rays to create a detailed image of the inside of your head
Treatments for acoustic neuromas
There are several different treatment options for an acoustic neuroma, depending on the size and position of your tumour, how fast it's growing and your general health.
The main options are:
- monitoring the tumour with regular MRI scans
- brain surgery
- stereotactic radiosurgery
Speak to your specialist about the best option for you and what the benefits and risks of each option are.
Outlook for acoustic neuromas
Large acoustic neuromas can be serious because they can sometimes cause a life-threatening build-up of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus).
It's rare for them to reach this stage. Many grow very slowly or not at all, and those that grow more quickly can be treated before they become too big.
Even with treatment, symptoms such as hearing loss and tinnitus can persist and affect your ability to work, communicate and drive. These problems may need additional treatment.
An acoustic neuroma can occasionally return after treatment. This is thought to happen to around 1 in every 20 people who have had surgical removal.
You will probably continue having regular MRI scans after any treatment, to check if the tumour is growing again or coming back.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
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