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Types and causes of hearing loss and deafness

Acoustic neuroma

An acoustic neuroma is a rare, slow-growing tumour that presses on the hearing and balance nerves.

It’s treatable and it’s benign, which means it is not cancerous.

Acoustic neuroma and hearing loss

An acoustic neuroma grows very slowly over a number of years. Eventually it presses on the balance, hearing and facial nerves, which means it can affect hearing and balance.

If it becomes very large it can press against the brain, although this doesn’t happen very often thanks to modern diagnostic techniques.

Signs of an acoustic neuroma

An acoustic neuroma may not have obvious symptoms at first. Symptoms will often develop gradually and can include:

  • hearing loss
  • tinnitus
  • vertigo.

A large acoustic neuroma can also cause:

  • persistent headaches
  • temporary blurred or double vision
  • numbness, pain or weakness on one side of the face
  • problems with limb coordination on one side of the body
  • a hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing.

What to do if you think you have an acoustic neuroma

Speak to your GP and get a referral to the hospital for an assessment if you have any of the symptoms.

Other conditions, such as Ménière’s disease, have some of the same symptoms. A specialist will check for an acoustic neuroma to make sure you’re treated properly.

If the specialist thinks you may have an acoustic neuroma, you will likely have:

  • your hearing assessed
  • an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • a CT (computerised tomography) scan.

Acoustic neuroma treatment

If you’re diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, your treatment will depend on a number of things, including:

  • your general health
  • the size and position of the tumour
  • results of other tests.

It’s best to discuss treatment options in detail with your surgeon or radiotherapist.

Acoustic neuromas grow very slowly so there’s no need to rush into a choice of treatment. All treatments happen at specialist centres, and include:

  • observation
  • microsurgery
  • radiotherapy
  • radiosurgery

Treatments can have some side effects. For example, surgery and radiosurgery can sometimes cause facial numbness or paralysis.

It’s important to speak to your doctor about the best option for you, and what the benefits and risks are.

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