A vestibular schwannoma (commonly known as an acoustic neuroma) is a benign tumor (noncancerous growth) that develops from the balance nerve that connects the ear and the brain. The tumor usually grows slowly. As it grows, it pushes and exerts pressure against the hearing and facial nerves. The tumor can eventually also cause numbness or paralysis of the face. If it grows large enough, it can press against the brain, becoming life-threatening.

Diagnosis

An acoustic neuroma can be difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms – hearing loss, tinnitus (ear noise) and imbalance – usually develop slowly and are often ignored. Ear exams, hearing tests and scans can show if you have it.

Every patient with asymmetric hearing loss (different hearing levels for each ear) should have a dedicated MRI to look for an acoustic tumor. Also, individuals who have experienced a sudden drop in hearing should be referred for an MRI. The likelihood of having an acoustic tumor in these scenarios is about one percent.

If you experience asymmetric hearing loss, the audiology department at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has dedicated staff to perform the most advanced hearing testing. That helps ensure you are properly diagnosed so that your treatment can be as effective as possible and that you can get faster results.

Management

Tumor size, hearing ability, age and overall health are all important in determining the best treatment when an acoustic neuroma is diagnosed. If the tumor is small, you may only need to have it checked regularly (annual MRIs). If you do need treatment, surgery and radiation are options.

Microsurgery

  • One treatment option that removes the tumor
  • Three different surgical approaches depending on size, location and residual hearing. Surgeons at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center offer all approaches.
  • Hearing can sometimes be preserved
     
Stereotactic Radiation
  • Mainly used for tumors demonstrating growth (multiple MRIs showing enlargement)
  • Outpatient procedure of one or more sessions with little recovery time
  • Radiation will stop the growth of the tumor rather than remove it
  • Ongoing monitoring via MRIs is required (at least once per year)
  • May adversely affect hearing

Postoperative

A two-to five-day hospital stay is usually required after surgery. Recovery takes about one to two months or longer, depending on the complexity of the procedure. Discomfort in the surgical area and fatigue are expected. Balance physical therapy may be necessary for patients experiencing problems with balance. To be sure tumor regrowth is not an issue, an MRI should be performed within one to five years of surgery.

Why Choose Ohio State

The departments of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery and Neurosurgery at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center have been successfully evaluating and treating patients with acoustic tumors for decades. Many of our patients are referred to us by local providers due to our outstanding reputation. Surgeons in both departments collaborate for acoustic tumors and ensure patients have optimal outcomes through this team approach.

A dedicated testing staff: We have a dedicated, knowledgeable, highly experienced staff that conducts our patient hearing testing, which provides a solid base of information to assist with the patient’s diagnosis.

Super specialists: Among our physicians are a group of neurotologists and skull base neurosurgeons who are often referred to as “super specialists.” We are skilled in treating all diseases of the ear, medically or surgically. Many of the neurotologists in the state of Ohio are found here.

Nationally ranked: Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is recognized by U.S.News & World Report as one of the nation’s best hospitals for care of the ear, nose and throat.

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