The vestibular system controls balance and posture; regulates locomotion and other movements; provides conscious awareness of orientation in space; and provides conscious awareness of visual fixation in motion.
Balance can be impaired by disease, altered gravity, aging, and exposure to unusual motion.
When balance is impaired, normal movement is affected, as well as motivation, concentration, and memory.
Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Acoustic neuroma, also referred to as vestibular schwannoma, is a noncancerous tumor that may develop from an overproduction of Schwann cells that press on the hearing and balance nerves in the inner ear. Schwann cells are cells that normally wrap around and support nerve fibers. If the tumor becomes large, it can press on the facial nerve or brain structure.
The following are the most common symptoms of acoustic neuroma. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
When a neuroma develops, it may cause any or all of the following:
- Hearing loss
- Feeling of fullness in the ear
- Tinnitus. A ringing in the ear.
- Balance problems
- Facial numbness and tingling with possible, though rare, paralysis of a facial nerve
- Headaches, clumsy gait, and mental confusion may be life-threatening conditions and require immediate treatment
The symptoms of acoustic neuroma may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
There are two types of acoustic neuromas:
- Unilateral acoustic neuromas. This type affects only one ear. This tumor may develop at any age, but most often occurs between the ages of 30 and 60. Acoustic neuroma may be the result of gene damage caused by environmental factors, although no environmental factor has been scientifically proved to cause acoustic neuromas.
- Bilateral acoustic neuromas. This type affects both ears and is hereditary, caused by a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis-2.
Because symptoms of acoustic neuromas resemble other middle and inner ear conditions, they may be difficult to diagnose. Preliminary diagnostic procedures include an ear examination and a hearing test. Computerized tomography (CT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRI) help to determine the location and size of the tumor.
Early diagnosis offers the best opportunity for successful treatment.
Specific treatment for acoustic neuroma will be determined by your health care provider based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the disease
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the disease
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include observation, surgery, or radiation. Surgery for larger tumors is complicated by the probable damage to hearing, balance, and facial nerves. Another treatment option is radiosurgery, often called the "gamma knife," using carefully focused radiation to reduce the size or limit the growth of the tumor.
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