The most common causes of hearing loss in Charleston are aging, noise exposure, trauma and disease. Though less common, tumors called acoustic neuromas can also lead to hearing loss.
Types of Acoustic Neuromas
Acoustic neuromas are slow-growing tumors that form on the vestibular nerve. They are benign (non-cancerous), but if they grow big enough, they can press against the brainstem, causing hearing and balance problems. Acoustic neuromas are broken down into two types:
- Unilateral acoustic neuromas. The most common type of acoustic neuroma is confined to one ear. People of all ages are affected, but most patients are 30 to 60 years old. The exact cause isn’t known, but experts believe noise exposure, head and neck radiation and cellphone use are all potential culprits.
- Bilateral acoustic neuromas. This rare type of acoustic neuroma affects both ears and is and is caused by a genetic defect on chromosome 22, resulting in a condition known as neurofibromatosis-2 (NS-2). A child whose parent carries this chromosomal defect has a 50 percent chance of developing an acoustic neuroma themselves.
It is possible that both types of acoustic neuroma are the result of gene defects. If so, unilateral acoustic neuromas are likely an acquired mutation, in contrast to bilateral acoustic neuromas, which are inherited.
Symptoms of an Acoustic Neuroma
When acoustic neuromas are small, they may cause no discernible symptoms. As they grow larger, patients may experience the following:
- Single-sided hearing loss (mainly affecting the higher frequencies)
- Congestion or fullness in the ear
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Unsteadiness/loss of balance
- Facial tingling and numbness
- Headaches and disorientation
Treatment depends on a variety of factors. Tumor size, growth rate, patient age and health and overall wishes will all be taken into consideration. Often, doctors take a wait-and-see approach, monitoring the tumor regularly for signs of growth. Regular checkups and MRIs help physicians monitor the acoustic neuroma.
If acoustic neuromas grow too big, they can push against the brainstem—a potentially life-threatening condition. These may need to be removed surgically. Different procedures are available depending on the patient’s symptoms. Craniotomy and stereotactic radiosurgery are two popular options.
Once the acoustic neuroma is removed, hearing and balance rehabilitation are often recommended. Possible complications include hearing loss and facial nerve damage. Hearing aids or cochlear implants can help those who suffer permanent hearing loss as a result of their acoustic neuroma.
For more information on these tumors that affect hearing and balance, contact an audiologist in Charleston today.