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Acoustic Neuroma

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An acoustic neuroma is a tumor that grows in the inner ear and presses on the nerves that affect hearing and balance. Also called vestibular schwannoma, it occurs rarely. The tumor is not cancerous, but may become large enough to cause permanent damage and to expand and compress other nerves and critical areas of the brain. The nationally recognized surgeons at the Florida Hospital Neuroscience Institute encourage people experiencing any symptoms associated with acoustic neuroma to seek immediate medical attention as early diagnosis creates the best opportunity for successful treatment. These physicians, along with a highly trained staff, combine a multidisciplinary approach to design a treatment plan that matches a patient’s unique healthcare need, delivered with the expertise, the most advanced technology and compassion.

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Acoustic neuroma is also referred to as vestibular schwannoma. The term derives from the Schwann cells that insulate and support nerve fibers. An overproduction of Schwann cells in the inner ear grows into an acoustic neuroma – a benign (noncancerous) tumor of the vestibulocochlear nerve.

Because the tumor is benign, it will not metastasize, spreading throughout the body. It may grow large enough to press on the nerves for hearing and balance, possibly causing hearing loss, ringing in the ear and dizziness. Some people experience tingling or numbness in the face, and in rare cases facial paralysis. If an acoustic neuroma becomes large enough, it could eventually press against the brainstem and cerebellum and lead to a buildup of fluids in the brain (hydrocephalus), a life threatening condition.

Acoustic neuromas occur in two forms: unilateral and bilateral. The unilateral type grows in only one ear. It occurs most often in people between 30 and 60 years old, but may develop at any age. A bilateral acoustic neuroma affects both ears and may develop during the teens or early adulthood. These patients also have a higher risk for developing tumors on the brain and spinal cord and on nerves that affect eye movement, speech, swallowing, and facial muscles.

If diagnosed soon enough, acoustic neuroma can often be effectively treated. In many cases, the tumor can be completely removed and people with small tumors may have no lasting effects. That is why early diagnosis is recommended any time symptoms appear. Without treatment, it is possible for the tumor to grow so large that it presses into the base of the brain, where the cerebellum and brain stem are located, which could be life threatening.

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