Acoustic neuroma is a tumor that develops behind the ear. Typically, this occurs on one side, but can occur behind both ears. Schwann cells are part of the myelin sheath that surrounds a nerve. The myelin sheath protects the nerve and assists with sending and receiving electrical signals. Acoustic neuromas typically slowly develop over time. Because of the location, as it grows, it starts to affect balance and hearing. Some symptoms include tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, and instability.
Acoustic neuroma is hard to diagnose as the symptoms mirror other issues. Diagnosis includes physical examination, evaluation of symptoms, detailed ear exam, testing hearing and balance, and MRI.
Treatment for acoustic neuroma includes monitoring, radiation, and/or surgery. If the tumor is small, the neurosurgeon may decide to monitor over time. Stereotactic radiosurgery focuses a narrow beam of radiation directly at the tumor, giving a better chance of avoiding damage to surrounding tissues. The last method of treatment involves surgery. This is used if the tumor is very large in size, continuing to grow, and/or causing symptoms. The neurosurgeon removes the tumor either through your ear or through craniotomy – temporary removal of a piece of skull that is replaced after the tumor has been removed.