Acoustic neuroma is a slow-growing benign (non-cancerous) tumor that forms on the nerve connecting your inner ear to the brain. This nerve is directly connected to hearing and balance and hence acoustic neuroma impairs hearing and causes unsteadiness along with ringing sensation in the ear.
Acoustic neuroma is sometimes referred to as vestibular schwannoma. At times, acoustic neuroma grows very large and interferes in vital functions of the brain.
Symptoms of Acoustic Neuroma
Acoustic neuroma symptoms get more prominent as the tumor grows bigger. However, it may be that smaller tumors cause equally troublesome effects. Some of the common symptoms of acoustic neuroma are loss of hearing (more pronounced in one side), ringing sensation, loss of balance, weakness, facial numbness, and dizziness. In rare occasions, the tumor proves fatal when it grows very large so as to compress the brainstem.
Causes of Acoustic Neuroma
The primary cause of acoustic neuroma is gene malfunctioning on chromosome 22. The protein produced by this gene regulates Schwann cell growth. Schwann cells cover the nerves. So, if one of your parents have neurofibromatosis 2 (genetic disorder) then you are at higher risk of suffering from acoustic neuroma.
Since neurofibromatosis 2 is autosomal dominant disorder that makes an autosome (non-sex chromosome) prone to mutation, it is passed by a single parent with the dominant gene. There remains a 50-50 chance that the disorder will be passed to the parent’s children.
Apart from this, some other triggers of acoustic neuroma are exposure to extremely loud noise, exposure to radiation (especially in the neck and head) during childhood, excessive use of cell phones and parathyroid adenoma.
Diagnosis of Acoustic Neuroma
Early successful detection of acoustic neuroma is very rare as symptoms of the disease develop gradually. Also, the symptoms overlap with those of other disorders such as inner ear problems. Some of the significant tests to detect acoustic neuroma are –
It is basically a hearing test conducted by audiologist. The audiologist exposes you to various ranges of sound. The audio tones are faded gradually to detect the degree of your hearing impairment.
Short for Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response, BAER test is a test for neurological functions and hearing powers. It uses electrodes that record how your brain responds to clicking sounds.
Short for Electronystagmography, ENG evaluates your balancing power through abnormal eye movement that is associated with inner ear.
CT scan of the head and MRI help in the detection of acoustic neuroma.
Treatment for Acoustic Neuroma
Treatment for acoustic neuroma moves through three stages – monitoring, radiation and surgery.
Monitoring is suggested by the doctor when the acoustic neuroma is pretty small and does not good growth rate. There should also be minimal symptoms. Monitoring is suggested to adults who are not suitable for treatment.
Monitoring accounts for regular hearing tests and imaging tests including the ones mentioned above. Monitoring tracks the growth rate of the benign tumor. Significant growth of the tumor calls for treatment.
Gamma-knife radiosurgery is a good example of this kind of surgery. Through radiosurgery doctors can send radiation to the tumor without the need for making incisions. This procedure involves attaching lightweight headframe to the scalp that is numbed through medications. The doctor then use imaging scans to pinpoint the acoustic neuroma and applies radiation beams right at the tumor.
This treatment procedure checks tumor growth. Radiosurgery helps only when the tumor has not grown very big in which case it would require surgical removal. Radiosurgery is also a good way to treat residual tumors that cannot be removed through conventional brain surgery. Radiosurgery takes weeks to years before showing effects. Radiosurgery has to be followed up with regular monitoring.
This method treats tumors with controlled radiation doses. Although radiation does not destroy tumors, it shrinks them down and inhibits their growth. Sometimes surgery fails to remove the entire tumor. Radiotherapy helps in removing the remnants of it. Radiotherapy focuses directly on acoustic neuroma and hence prevents any damage to the nearby healthy tissues.
The chief aim of surgical removal is to discard the tumor and preservation of the facial nerve to preserve hearing and prevent facial paralysis. The patient is given general anesthesia and the tumor is surgically removed through the patient’s inner ear. The tumor can also be removed by making an incision on the skull. The patient is asked to stay in hospital for a week after the surgery.
Recovery takes another 6 weeks. However, surgery can worsen the symptoms further if the operation affects certain cranial and nerve structures. Some other complications after surgery include cerebrospinal fluid leakage, ringing sensation in ear, facial weakness, loss of hearing, persistent headache and balance problems.
Auditory Brain Stem Implants
This treatment helps when the cause of acoustic neuroma is neurofibromatosis 2. These brain stem implants are small electrical devices. These implants are inserted into brain stem that links to spinal cord. Since surgery has side effects such as hearing loss, these brain implants help the patients recover their hearing.
Natural Treatment for Acoustic Neuroma
Acupuncture helps patients of acoustic neuroma in dealing with hearing loss and facial paralysis. Acupuncture also slows down tumor growth. It also heals tinnitus (ringing sensation in ears) and chronic headache that acoustic neuroma accompanies.
Turmeric contains curcumin that reduces inflammation in the brain and inhibits the growth of acoustic neuroma.
This herb improves blood circulation around acoustic neuroma and heals tinnitus.
Green tea consists of a compound called EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) that blocks the enzyme that promotes growth of tumors. It also promotes proper blood circulation.
Coping with Acoustic Neuroma
Since most treatments for acoustic neuroma have potential side effects related to hearing loss as well as facial paralysis, patients should educate themselves more about the disease. This would help them better choose treatment for the same.
The patients should prepare a list of symptoms prior to visiting the doctor so that the doctor can make better decisions regarding which treatment would suit the patient. It is better to be in touch with other people with acoustic neuroma. This habit will help them better cope with complications caused by the disease.
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