What Is an Acoustic Neuroma?
An acoustic neuroma, also known as a vestibular schwannoma, is a non-cancerous tumor of the auditory nerve that can interfere with hearing and balance.
Acoustic neuromas are made up of schwann cells, which form a protective sheath on peripheral nerve fibers. When the body overproduces schwann cells in the ear, these slow-growing tumors press on the nerve in the inner ear, impacting hearing and balance.
In rare cases, acoustic neuromas can get particularly large, pressing on the facial nerve or on parts of the brain, affecting neurological function or blocking the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This situation can be life threatening.
Acoustic neuromas can be unilateral (affecting one ear) or bilateral (affecting both ears).
- Unilateral acoustic neuromas are more common, developing most often between 30 and 60 years of age. Research seems to indicate that these types of neuromas might be the result of nerve damage caused by environmental factors, such as continuous exposure to loud noises.
- Bilateral acoustic neuromas are usually only found in patients with the genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis-2 (NF2). This inherited condition predisposes carriers to develop tumors in the nerves of the head and spinal cord, leading to hearing and vision problems.