Acoustic Neuroma is a condition where a non-malignant tumour grows on the eighth cranial nerve, or vestibulocochlear nerve as it is known as in medical terms. Located below the ear this nerve connects the inner ear to the brain, and is responsible for transmitting sound as well as sending balancing information to the brain.
An Acoustic Neuroma is usually slow growing and develops over a long period of time. In itself, the tumour is not cancerous. However, being an abnormal growth it tends to create certain complications. When the tumour develops, it tends to press down upon the nearby cranial nerves which control motor functions of the face. It may also press against the brain stem or cerebellum as it continues to grow – and this is when it becomes a concern.
What causes Acoustic Neuroma?
Acoustic Neuroma is not a very common condition and develops in only about 1 in 100,000 people in the world. In the case of Acoustic Neuroma, the tumour may be formed sporadically or could be a product of NF2 or Type II Neurofibromatosis.
Neurofibromatosis is a disorder where tumours develop in various parts of the brain and nervous system.
When Acoustic Neuroma forms as a consequence of neurofibromatosis, the underlying reasons are usually genetic. Unfortunately, experts have not been able to determine the reasons for sporadic tumour growth yet.
In 2010 the Acoustic Neuroma Association Board of Directors published a “cautionary alert” regarding cell phone usage and acoustic neuroma. The statement was endorsed by the ANA Medical Advisory Board. These precautions are:
- Keep cell phones away from your head; a safe distance is at least five inches away from the skull. Use an air-tube headset if possible.
- Avoid use of cell phones while driving and cycling because the risk is comparable to the risk of driving under the influence of alcohol.
- Limit the use of cell phone whenever possible, particularly in children to reduce exposure to the developing brain
Symptoms of Acoustic Neuroma:
For Acoustic Neuroma, the symptoms usually vary depending upon the location of the tumour. Also, since the tumours develop slowly, it may be long before external symptoms begin to manifest. Therefore, symptoms of this disease in children are not very pronounced. In case they do show up, some of the early signs would be:
- Difficulty in hearing in one ear while the other remains fine.
- Trouble in distinguishing between words when they are spoken.
- Tinnitus or frequent ringing in the ear.
- Frequent dizziness
As the tumours begin to grow and exert pressure on the cerebellum of the brain, or other cranial nerves, the following symptoms will start to occur:
- Numbness and tingling sensation in facial muscles.
- Frequent headaches.
- Pain in the area below the ears where these tumours usually develop.
- Difficulty in balancing.
Continuous pain and headaches, according to doctors, indicate that the tumour may have reached an advanced stage. In this case, one is advised to see a doctor right away.
Treatment Procedures for Acoustic Neuroma:
On experiencing any kind of pain near the area below the ears, no matter how mild, it is advised to consult an ENT doctor. The ENT specialist will perform a few tests to determine if it is a case of Acoustic Neuroma and the stage in which the tumour currently is.
Typically the diagnosis includes the following:
- Hearing test
- A test to check body equilibrium and ability to balance
- An auditory response test for the brain stem
Depending on the test results, the ENT specialist will determine the extent of the damage, and the stage that the neuroma is in.
If diagnosed early, the specialists may not suggest surgery as these tumours are non-cancerous. Medication may help the tumour from growing more. Further, a non-invasive radiation therapy can be employed to stunt the growth of the tumour and remove it.
However, if the neuroma has reached advanced stages and is pressing against your brain stem, the doctor will recommend surgical removal of the tumour.
Several diseases including Acoustic Neuroma, are seemingly harmless but if left untreated for a long time may turn out to be fatal. Irrespective of the intensity, it is always advised that you go for a check-up when you experience discomfort for a prolonged duration.