Acoustic neuroma is a non-cancerous tumor in the vestibular nerve connecting your inner ear and brain. While it will not kill you, per se, it will cause a wide range of symptoms like headaches, nausea and loss of balance and coordination when it’s large enough. These symptoms are due to the fact that the branches of the vestibular nerve have a direct influence on hearing, balance and coordination.
If it’s any consolation, acoustic neuroma isn’t a contagious disease. You won’t get it by sitting next to a person with it, not even by sharing utensils and a bed. But it’s also important to know the risk factors so you can decide to seek medical opinion in case you have the symptoms.
Risk Factors Explained
Emphasis must be made that risk factors refers to the characteristics, bahaviors and conditions that increase the likelihood of getting a specific illness or injury. The presence of one or more risk factors doesn’t automatically mean getting the illness or suffering from the injury 100%.
For example, a risk factor for lung cancer is the use of tobacco products, particularly smoking cigarettes. But it doesn’t mean that every smoker will be afflicted with lung cancer! It only means that there’s a higher risk for smoker to get lung cancer.
Risk Factor for Acoustic Neuroma
With that being said, scientists have identified a single risk factor for acoustic neuroma: neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2). There may or may be other risk factors but NF2 is the only confirmed risk factor, for now. There’s also the matter of NF2 only accounting for around 5% of cases.
NF2 is characterized by the development of benign tumors on the balance nerves that, in turn, affect balance and coordination in the affected person. This is an autosomal dominant disorder, a mutation passed on by a dominant gene of an affected parent. As such, a child with a parent affected by NF2 has a 50-50 chance of getting it through genetic inheritance.
This means that the genetic lottery can swing either way. You can inherit the malfunctioning gene located on chromosome 22 or you don’t have it.
Normally, said gene on chromosome 22 produces a protein that suppresses tumor growth. This tumor suppressor protein aids in controlling the abnormal growth of Schwann cells on the balance nerves.
At present, scientists have yet to determine why and how the gene malfunctions. For this reason, there’s usually no identifiable cause for acoustic neuroma.
If one of your parents has NF2, you may want to look out for possible signs and symptoms of acoustic neuroma. You won’t immediately feel these signs, however, as these are usually subtle and take years to develop.
But if you experience gradual or sudden hearing loss, either in one or both ears, tinnitus, loss of balance and/or dizziness, you should seek medical opinion for your ENT specialist ASAP.
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