Acoustic neuroma, also called vestibular schwannoma, is a slow-growing, non-cancerous (benign) tumor. It develops on a nerve that runs between the inner ear and the brain.
While an acoustic neuroma isn't cancerous, it can be life-threatening. If not treated, it can grow large enough to press against your brain stem.
University of Iowa Health Care otologists and neurotologists are among only a few such experts in the country. They are extremely skilled in removing acoustic neuromas without damaging facial nerves or hearing.
Acoustic neuroma diagnosis by UI Health Care experts
An acoustic neuroma presses on nerves related to hearing, balance, and facial sensation. Many of its symptoms affect those areas:
- Sudden or gradual hearing loss in one ear
- Ringing or other noise (tinnitus) in the affected ear
- Balance problems, including dizziness
- Facial numbness and tingling
Two tests will help your otologist or neurotologist diagnose an acoustic neuroma:
- An MRI scan with a contrast dye injected through an IV
- A hearing test (audiogram)
Acoustic neuroma treatment from UI Health Care
The first step in treating an acoustic neuroma is finding out whether it's growing and, if so, how quickly.
If your tumor is small and not causing significant symptoms, your specialist will likely recommend a second MRI six months after your diagnosis.
Small, slow-growing tumors usually don't need treatment if they aren't causing problems. An MRI every six to 12 months will track your tumor's growth.
Surgery may be recommended for patients with smaller tumors if their hearing is excellent and they are interested in trying to preserve their hearing.
Microsurgery for acoustic neuroma
Microsurgery is a delicate procedure that removes the tumor while preserving facial nerves and hearing.
UI Health Care neurotologists have years of experience performing this surgery, which means better outcomes for patients.
Surgery is most effective if you're in good overall health, but your tumor is causing significant dizziness or balance problems.
Your neurotologist will perform the procedure while you're asleep under general anesthesia. They use advanced operating-room technology, such as specialized microscopes, to target the tumor without damaging other tissues.
After your surgery, you can expect to recover in the hospital for four to five days and then at home for the next few weeks. Most people are ready to return to normal activities in about a month.
Treating acoustic neuroma with radiation
If your tumor is growing, radiation may slow or stop the growth. UI Health Care providers typically do not use this option because it can damage hearing.
However, radiation may be an option if you:
- Are age 65 or older
- Have a small tumor
- Need to treat the tumor but are not a good candidate for surgery because of health issues
Investigating aspirin therapy
UI Health Care otologists and neurotologists are part of an innovative clinical trial investigating whether aspirin can slow the growth of small acoustic neuromas and maintain or improve hearing.
When you're a patient here, you may have access to this trial and other trials of treatments that aren't widely available.
Hearing restoration after acoustic neuroma surgery
Large acoustic neuromas can damage your hearing as they grow. The ability to save hearing is related to your tumor's size and your hearing level before surgery.
Depending on where your hearing loss has occurred, your neurotologist might recommend one of the following implanted devices to help you hear better:
An auditory brain stem implant
UI Health Care neurotologists are some of the most experienced in the country in the implantation of these devices.
Our team pioneered the use of cochlear implants in the early 1980s and has led the way in refining and updating the technology.