Hearing loss in single ear could be linked to acoustic neuromas, experts say

Denise Dador Image
Wednesday, January 24, 2024
Hearing loss in one ear may be a sign of this serious condition
Acoustic neuromas are rare tumors that can impact hearing in one ear and even possibly threaten a person's life.

Hearing loss, ringing in your ear, unexplained dizziness - many people might think it's just the typical signs of aging.

But for some, it can be much more: Acoustic neuromas, although rare, can be life-changing, even life-threatening.

Julie Sifford and her daughter Eliza do just about everything together.

"We play soccer, we kick the ball around in the yard, we come to parks. She likes to throw the football," she said.

But when Sifford started feeling lightheaded and dizzy, it became more difficult to do just about anything.

"I'd had some tinnitus, the ringing in my ear, that really started increasing over time. I'd had some hearing loss in my left ear and just assumed it was normal aging," she said.

"I have a lot of patients who say, 'Yeah, I've been losing my hearing in my right ear for 10 years, but I just thought it was age.' We don't lose hearing in one ear because you age, you lose hearing in both," said Dr. Rick Friedman, a neurotologist with UC San Diego Health.

An MRI revealed an acoustic neuroma - a small, non-cancerous tumor, the size of a raisin, pressing on the main nerve connecting Sifford's ear to her brain.

These tumors form from cells that make up the nerve's protective sheath.

"It's like the covering of the wire that's just growing out of control, and it damages hearing. It can get big enough to compress the brainstem," he said.

Friedman and neurosurgeon Mark Schwartz specialize in removing these tumors.

"This is the tumor of the vestibular nerve sitting in the internal auditory canal," Friedman said.

Depending on the size, patients can wait and watch, undergo radiation or surgery. Surgery is the only option that preserves the hearing that one has not lost.

The key is to remove the tumor while not damaging any facial nerves.

"So, we make a window of bone here, elevate the brain off the floor, and this black is bone, and I remove that bone so we can get to the tumor from above and slide it out," said Friedman.

"I knew, immediately, that I had preserved my hearing," said Sifford.

Although she will not regain any hearing she's already lost, Sifford feels fortunate that it won't get any worse. Her balance is improving, and she's ready for the next soccer season to begin.