One of the more uncommon diseases called acoustic neuroma affects as much as 1 in 100,000 people with 3,000 diagnosed cases yearly. This prevalence rate can be insignificant compared to other more common diseases; however, if you or other members of your family get afflicted with it, you will not find the disease to be unimportant any more. Despite such low prevalence rate, the disease actually amounts to 6 percent of all tumors in the brain. It affects those in the fifties to sixties – both men and women.
When you first hear about the disease, you would have to repeat it twice or thrice to yourself just to have an idea of what it really is; much baffling when you are given its other name, vestibular schwannoma. Like other diseases, the naming of such disease is actually based on its etiology. Acoustic denotes hearing while neuroma pertains to a growth or swelling (-oma) in the nerves (neuro). However, understanding fully the condition needs more than just definition of words.
Before discussing acoustic neuroma symptoms, there is need to discuss the standard. The body is made up of twelve cranial nerves (CN) directly arising from the brain, controlling specific body parts and bringing about various bodily functions. Acoustic neuroma is a disease in the eighth cranial nerve called the vestibulocochlear nerve. Because the nerve controls both hearing and balance, such disease involves an alteration in the two as you soon will come to understand. Its cause is actually unknown but an interplay of the effects of inheritance and environment is suspected.
When the tumor is localized in the CN 8, specifically in the internal auditory canal, the first of the acoustic neuroma symptoms to manifest is deafness in the same side where the tumor is located, also called ipsilateral hearing loss. When the tumor continues to increase in size, the person afflicted may experience loss of balance as well as altered gait, vertigo (the perception of being spun around even when remaining stationary) with nausea and vomiting, and tinnitus (the perception of abnormal sounds usually ringing even without the presence of such sound). These last signs and symptoms arise because of the tumor pressing on the vestibular portion, which controls balance.
Later on, when the tumor enlarges, other cranial nerves become affected as well. Among such nerves are cranial nerves 5, 7, 9, and 10. The acoustic neuroma symptoms then extend to include the loss of function from the pressing of such nerves. With CN 5, the trigeminal nerve, and CN 7, the facial nerve, the person may experience loss of sensation in the same side of the face where the tumor is found. With CN 9, the glossopharyngeal nerve, the person may find himself or herself with impairment in swallowing and gag reflexes. Later in the course of the disease, parts of the brainstem such as the pons and medulla may be affected, at which stage altered consciousness may ensue.
Treatment of the disease is usually done as it progresses with conservative methods of drugs and radiotherapy when the tumor remains benign and surgical removal when it starts to grow and presses on other nerves.
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