An acoustic neuroma is a slow-growing tumor of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain. This nerve is called the vestibular cochlear nerve. It is behind the ear, right under the brain.
An acoustic neuroma is benign. This means that it does not spread to other parts of the body. However, it can damage several important nerves as it grows.
Acoustic neuromas have been linked with the genetic disorder neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2).
Acoustic neuromas are uncommon.
The symptoms vary, based on the size and location of the tumor. Because the tumor grows so slowly, symptoms most often start after age 30.
Common symptoms include:
Less common symptoms include:
The health care provider may suspect an acoustic neuroma based on your medical history, an exam of your nervous system, or tests.
Often, the physical exam is normal when the tumor is diagnosed. Sometimes, the following signs may be present:
The most useful test to identify an acoustic neuroma is an MRI of the brain. Other tests to diagnose the tumor and tell it apart from other causes of dizziness or vertigo include:
Treatment depends on the size and location of the tumor, your age, and your overall health. You and your provider must decide whether to watch the tumor without treatment, use radiation to stop it from growing, or try to remove it.
Many acoustic neuromas are small and grow very slowly. Small tumors with few or no symptoms may be watched for changes, especially in older people. Regular MRI scans will be done.
If not treated, some acoustic neuromas can:
Removing an acoustic neuroma is more commonly done for:
Surgery or a type of radiation treatment is done to remove the tumor and prevent other nerve damage. Depending on the type of surgery performed, hearing can sometimes be preserved.
Removing an acoustic neuroma can damage nerves. This may cause loss of hearing or weakness in the face muscles. This damage is more likely to occur when the tumor is large.
An acoustic neuroma is not cancer. The tumor does not spread to other parts of the body. However, it may continue to grow and press on structures in the skull.
People with small, slow-growing tumors may not need treatment.
Hearing loss present before treatment is not likely to return after surgery or radiosurgery. In cases of smaller tumors, hearing loss that occurs after surgery may return.
Most people with small tumors will have no permanent weakness of the face after surgery. However, people with large tumors are more likely to have some permanent weakness of the face after surgery.
Signs of nerve damage such as loss of hearing or weakness of the face may be delayed after radiosurgery.
In most cases, brain surgery can completely remove the tumor.
Call your provider if you have:
Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.