An acoustic neuroma is a type of non-cancerous (benign) brain tumour. It’s also known as a vestibular schwannoma.
A benign brain tumour is a growth in the brain that usually grows slowly over many years and does not spread to other parts of the body.
Acoustic neuromas grow on the nerve used for hearing and balance, which can cause problems such as hearing loss and unsteadiness.
They can sometimes be serious if they become very large, but most are picked up and treated before they reach this stage.
Acoustic neuromas tend to affect adults aged 30 to 60 and usually have no obvious cause, although a small number of cases are the result of a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2).
Symptoms of an acoustic neuroma
An acoustic neuroma may not cause any obvious symptoms at first.
Any symptoms tend to develop gradually and often include:
- hearing loss that usually only affects 1 ear
- hearing sounds that come from inside the body (tinnitus)
- the sensation that you’re moving or spinning (vertigo)
A large acoustic neuroma can also sometimes cause:
- persistent headaches
- temporary blurred or double vision
- numbness, pain or weakness on 1 side of the face
- problems with limb co-ordination (ataxia) on 1 side of the body
- a hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing
Getting medical advice
See your GP if you have persistent or troublesome symptoms that you’re worried could be caused by an acoustic neuroma.
Acoustic neuromas can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be caused by other conditions, such as Ménière’s disease.
If your GP thinks you could have an acoustic neuroma, you’ll be referred to a hospital or clinic for further tests, such as:
- hearing tests to check for hearing problems and determine whether they’re caused by a problem with your nerves
- an MRI scan, which uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed picture of the inside of your head
- a CT scan, which uses a series of X-rays to create a detailed image of the inside of your head
Treatments for acoustic neuromas
There are several different treatment options for an acoustic neuroma, depending on the size and position of your tumour, how fast it’s growing and your general health.
The main options are:
- monitoring the tumour – small tumours often just need to be monitored with regular MRI scans, and the treatments below are generally only recommended if scans show it’s getting bigger
- brain surgery – surgery to remove the tumour through a cut in the skull may be carried out under general anaesthetic if it’s large or getting bigger
- stereotactic radiosurgery – small tumours, or any pieces of a larger tumour that remain after surgery, may be treated with a precise beam of radiation to stop them getting any bigger
All these options carry some risks. For example, surgery and radiosurgery can sometimes cause facial numbness or an inability to move part of your face (paralysis).
Speak to your specialist about the best option for you and what the benefits and risks are.
Outlook for acoustic neuromas
Large acoustic neuromas can be serious because they can sometimes cause a life-threatening build-up of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus).
But it’s rare for them to reach this stage. Many grow very slowly or not at all, and those that grow more quickly can be treated before they become too big.
Even with treatment, symptoms such as hearing loss and tinnitus can persist and affect your ability to work, communicate and drive.
These problems may need additional treatment.
Read more about treating hearing loss and treating tinnitus.
An acoustic neuroma can occasionally return after treatment. This is thought to happen to around 1 in every 20 people who have had surgical removal.
You’ll probably continue having regular MRI scans after any treatment to check if the tumour is growing again or coming back.
The 100,000 Genomes Project
If your doctor thinks there could be a genetic cause for your acoustic neuroma, you may be invited to take part in the 100,000 Genomes Project.
Your DNA will be studied to find out more about the cause of your condition.
The aim is to create a new personalised medicine service for the NHS. This should transform the way people are cared for.
Auditory processing disorder (APD) is where you have difficulty understanding sounds, including spoken words. There are things you can do that can help.
Symptoms of auditory processing disorder (APD)
APD often starts in childhood but some people develop it later.
If you or your child have APD, you may find it difficult to understand:
people speaking in noisy places
people with strong accents or fast talkers
similar sounding words
APD is not a hearing problem. People with the condition usually have normal hearing.
Non-urgent advice:See a GP if:
you or your child find it hard to hear or understand speech
The GP may refer you to a hearing specialist.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP
It’s still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:
visit their website
use the NHS App
Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19
Tests for auditory processing disorder (APD)
To test for APD you may be asked to:
listen to speech with background noise
spot small changes in sounds
fill in missing parts of words
Other tests may include:
having electrodes on your head to measure how your brain reacts to sound
speech and language tests
memory, problem-solving and concentration tests
Testing for APD is not usually done on children under 7 years old.
Treating auditory processing disorder (APD)
There is no cure for APD but there are things that can help.
Treatment usually involves activities to improve listening and concentration. This is called auditory training. You can do it with a hearing specialist or in your own time online.
To reduce background noise, school children with APD may be advised to wear a wireless earpiece that connects to a tiny microphone worn by their teacher.
Things you can do to help with auditory processing disorder (APD)
There are things that you and other people can do to help with your APD.
talk face to face
use pictures and text
repeat or rephrase things if necessary
use carpet and soft furnishings to reduce room noise
do not cover your mouth when talking
do not talk in long complicated sentences
do not speak too fast or too slow
do not have background noise, like TV and radio
Causes of auditory processing disorder (APD)
It’s not always clear what causes APD.
Possible causes include:
regular ear infections
a faulty gene
complications at birth
APD is often found in people with attention, language and learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and ADHD.
Information from the NHS website. For more information on health, click here to visit the NHS England.