Symptoms of acoustic neuroma vary from person to person. They may include:
Hearing loss in one ear: The most common symptom of an acoustic neuroma is hearing loss in only one ear. This hearing loss can occur suddenly or gradually over time. Some patients will notice that they are having a harder time understanding speech, especially in a noisy background. Others may notice that they must switch their phone to the opposite ear.
Tinnitus in one ear: Many acoustic neuroma patients will experience a ringing sound in just one ear. Often it is described as a constant, high-pitched sound. In general, this ringing sound, called tinnitus, is a common problem that affects both ears. It is estimated that 10-15% of the U.S. population has tinnitus. The tinnitus caused by acoustic neuroma is only on the side with the tumor.
Dizziness, balance problems, unsteadiness, or gait incoordination: Although most patients have hearing loss, research has shown that these tumors come from the balance nerves. The symptoms of balance loss are usually more subtle than hearing loss or tinnitus.
The balance organs are always sending signals to the brain via the balance nerves. The brain uses these signals to maintain balance. As acoustic neuromas grow, the brain will not be able to receive signals from the balance organs on that side. The brain has the ability to compensate for some balance loss, so many patients do not recognize any balance issues with everyday activities. Also, many patients may ignore balance symptoms or relate their imbalance to aging.
A common symptom of unilateral balance loss is veering off to one side while trying to walk straight. Some patients will notice that their balance has changed when they are exercising or doing yoga, since the brain may have trouble compensating for quick movements.
Facial numbness and weakness: Large tumors that occupy the space between the skull and brainstem can compress the brainstem and affect other nerves. Facial numbness can occur when the tumor presses against the trigeminal nerve (also called the fifth cranial nerve). Although the facial nerve and the vestibulocochlear nerve are closely bound to each other, facial weakness is generally not seen until tumors become very large.
Feeling of fullness in one ear: Patients may have a feeling of fullness in the ear where the acoustic neuroma is growing.
Acoustic neuroma symptoms often develop slowly, and they often are mistaken for normal changes of aging. You should see your doctor if you have:
- Any type of hearing loss or change
- Ringing in one ear that lasts for a couple of months or longer
These symptoms usually do not mean you have acoustic neuroma. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may signal other health problems.
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