An acoustic neuroma is a non-cancerous tumour that develops on the eighth cranial nerve, leading from the brain to the inner ear. Initially, they can affect your hearing and balance. Left unchecked, they can threaten brain function and your life.
Also called vestibular schwannoma, acoustic neuromas are rare and benign. They start in the Schwann cells, growing slowly from an overproduction of these cells. With growth, the tumour presses on the hearing and balance nerves in the inner ear.
Schwann cells normally wrap around and support nerve fibers. A large tumour can press on the facial nerve or brain structures. Nearly always slow growing, they often have been present a long time before they are diagnosed.
Vestibular schwannomas are found most often in older people. Rarely, are they associated with a genetic condition called "neurofibromatosis". People with neurofibromatosis are usually diagnosed at a much younger age and tumours might be on both sides of the brain (bilateral).
Although the cause is largely unknown, several known elements can affect your treatment options and quality of life.
Most acoustic neuroma patients initially experience hearing loss, balance issues or changes to their vision. Symptoms tend to present themselves gradually and are easily overlooked, making it difficult to diagnose and understand the onset of the problem.
You may experience some additional symptoms beyond hearing loss that helps your doctor diagnose a possible acoustic neuroma.
Acoustic neuromas are classified into types according to size (small, medium, large), or as intracranial. The size and location determines your treatment.
Although similar in nature, there are some fundamental differences.
Acoustic neuroma is treatable, especially if it is caught early. Ideally, your physician will have substantial experience treating acoustic neuromas and explain treatment philosophy as well as your symptoms.
Depending on the size of your tumour, its location, your age and physical health, your doctor will suggest one of three treatment options.
The size and complexity of your tumour affect your post surgery experience from the length of hospital stay to rehabilitation needs to psychological support required.
There are also possible acute side effects that may have an impact on your recovery and lifestyle.
Although the numbers of people who experience an acoustic neuroma is low compared to other possible types of tumours, support is available from local associations, family, friends, and healthcare professionals familiar with treating the disease and the symptoms associated with the diagnosis.
No acoustic neuroma patient needs to be alone and uninformed through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. There are many ways you can receive support.