Acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannoma) 

Introduction 

Hearing loss: Paul's story

Paul was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss at the age of 33. Despite this, he continues to be successful in his job and was awarded Council Worker of the Year in 2007.

Media last reviewed: 14/02/2013

Next review due: 14/02/2015

How common are acoustic neuromas?

All types of brain tumour are relatively rare. Every year, approximately 20 people out of every million in the population are diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma.

For reasons that are unclear, acoustic neuromas tend to be more common in women than in men. People between 40-60 years of age are most often affected. The condition is rare in children.

An acoustic neuroma is a benign (non-cancerous) growth, or tumour, in the brain. It's also known as a vestibular schwannoma.

An acoustic neuroma grows on the vestibulocochlear nerve, which helps control hearing and balance. This nerve runs alongside the facial nerve, which carries information from the brain to the face muscles.

The symptoms of an acoustic neuroma tend to develop gradually and can vary in severity. This can make the condition difficult to diagnose (see below).

A small acoustic neuroma can lead to problems with:

  • hearing – causing hearing loss or tinnitus (a noise perceived inside the ear but with no outside source)
  • balance – causing vertigo (the sensation that you're spinning)

A large acoustic neuroma can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • headaches with blurred vision
  • numbness or pain on one side of the face
  • problems with limb co-ordination on one side of the body

Occasionally, large neuromas can also result in muscle weakness on one side of the face. In rare cases, it may also cause changes to the voice or difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).

What causes an acoustic neuroma?

The cause of most acoustic neuromas is unknown, but a small number of cases (about 5%) are caused by a rare, inherited condition called neurofibromatosis type 2.

Acoustic neuromas grow from the cells that cover the vestibulocochlear nerve, called Schwann cells.

Read more about the causes of an acoustic neuroma.

Diagnosing an acoustic neuroma

If your GP thinks you have an acoustic neuroma, you'll be referred to hospital for tests.

The three types of test you may have are:

Read more about how an acoustic neuroma is diagnosed.

Treating an acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuromas tend to grow slowly and don't spread to other parts of the brain.

They can be so small and grow so slowly that they may not cause any symptoms or problems. In such cases, the acoustic neuroma may just be monitored to avoid risks associated with surgery.

In rare cases, the tumour can grow large enough to press on the brain. However, most acoustic neuromas can be treated before they reach this stage, either with surgery to remove the tumour or radiotherapy to destroy it. 

Read more about treating an acoustic neuroma.

Complications of an acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuromas aren't usually life-threatening but the symptoms can be disruptive. For example, the loss of hearing may affect your ability to communicate with others.

Speak to your GP or specialist if you feel the symptoms are having an impact on your day-to-day life. There may be ways of easing your symptoms, such as using a hearing aid or taking painkilling medication.

Read more about complications of an acoustic neuroma




Page last reviewed: 16/06/2014

Next review due: 16/06/2016

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Mikie_Mike said on 20 July 2014

found out I have this tumour in 2009 when started to have hearing loss. it was too big for radiotherapy. no further symptoms until early 2014, when loss of balance and double vision made it a living hell. had a shunt installed and and the major operation solved the balance problem, but double vision is still there after 3 month at the time of writing. major worry before the operation was damaging of the facial nerve and subsequent face drop they gave me 50/50 chances. at the end no nerve was damaged, but face became weak and one side still doesn't work. may take many month to recover, may not recover at all...

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Vilary said on 02 September 2013

after Radiotherapy for the acoustic neuroma the loss of balance increased and loss of memory. a ct scan and lumber puncture followed and a shunt was fitted. great improvement and life has begun again
only trouble is I never had a discharge paper telling me what and how to continue for the next few months e.g. do I drive, fly, help please hospital is far away out of our area

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