What is acoustic neuroma?

Acoustic neuromas — also known as vestibular schwannomas — are non-cancerous tumors that develop on the vestibulocochlear nerve between the brain and inner ear.

This nerve is involved in hearing and balance control. Acoustic neuromas are typically slow-growing tumors that, over time, displace the surrounding tissue areas.

What are the symptoms of acoustic neuroma?

Symptoms of acoustic neuroma can include tinnitus (ringing in the ear), hearing loss and balance difficulties. Larger tumors can cause facial numbness, facial weakness, headaches or compression of the brainstem.

How is acoustic neuroma diagnosed?

To diagnose acoustic neuroma, doctors rely on an ear exam, hearing test and imaging. Usually, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with a special type of dye is the imaging scan of choice. It can detect very small tumors. In some cases, a computed tomography (CT) scan is used in place of an MRI.

How is acoustic neuroma treated?

Treatment options include observation (for small tumors), radiosurgery (a type of radiation therapy), and surgical removal. Doctors consider the patient’s age and overall health, symptoms and tumor size to determine which treatment is recommended.

There are three surgical approaches:

  • The middle fossa approach accesses the tumor through an incision in front of the ear. This procedure is used for small tumors where hearing preservation is the goal.
  • The retrosigmoid approach is also used to preserve hearing and for larger tumors. It involves accessing the tumor from behind the ear.
  • The translabyrinthine approach is also through an incision behind the ear. This approach is used when hearing is already compromised.

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