I Have Ringing In My Ears. Could I Have A Brain Tumor?

Ringing in the ear is a frustrating but straightforward case of tinnitus.

Acoustic Neuromas and Tinnitus

Have you ever wondered if that persistent ringing in your ears is a sign of significant problems between your ears? 

Short answer: probably not.

Most ringing in the ear is a frustrating but straightforward case of tinnitus. Sometimes, however, the tone you’re hearing may be symptomatic of other issues, including the presence of a noncancerous tumor on the auditory nerve, called an acoustic neuroma

Watch Dr. Ben’s explanation of the relationship between tinnitus and tumors. 

Because the space separating the brain and the skull is only a few millimeters, even minor inflammation or unusual growths in the cranial cavity can manifest in the form of headaches, dizziness, and yes, a ringing in your ear. An acoustic neuroma – or vestibular schwannoma – is just one kind of abnormal growth, occurring when a group of cells develops on the auditory nerve. Although an acoustic neuroma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor that does not spread to other parts of the brain or cause cancer, it can impact both hearing and balance, as well as lead to a host of discomforts. 

Acoustic neuromas are very rare, impacting fewer than 20,000 people in the U.S. each year. A 2017 study showed that just around 2% of people reporting hearing loss or ringing in one ear turned out to have a vestibular schwannoma. 

"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
– Steve D.
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If you’re like the more than 36 million Americans who experience ringing in their ears, this should come as good news. Unless your hearing concerns are disrupting your daily life or you find yourself experiencing new or unusual symptoms, most people experiencing routine tinnitus should feel comfortable waiting until their next appointment with a specialist for any additional testing. 

That said, it’s important to pay attention to symptoms that may arise in addition to your tinnitus, like facial numbness, ear pain, dizziness, headaches, migraines, or the feeling that the room is spinning (a condition known as vertigo). These co-occurring issues can signal a deeper problem. If you have any combination of those symptoms, contact your doctor to let them know. They may order a hearing test, an MRI, or a neuroimaging study to see what’s going on past the eardrum. Your doctor may also refer you to an ear, nose, and throat professional for even more thorough evaluation. 

If your tests reveal an acoustic neuroma, know that most are typically very slow growing. Research shows that less than a third of acoustic neuromas show discernable growth even four years after diagnosis. In fact, my own grandfather has had the condition for more than a decade. His doctors monitor him annually, but no medical intervention has been necessary. 

If medical intervention is appropriate, there are excellent treatment options. As an audiologist, I’ve conducted hundreds of hearing tests and hearing aid fittings for patients who have had surgery for an acoustic neuroma. And while the procedures often result in some degree of hearing loss, the overall risk of complications is low. Patients should consult their doctor and proceed in a manner that aligns with your own health goals and preferences.

In short, if you’ve struggled with tinnitus for an extended period of time with relatively consistent symptoms, you’re likely among the 15% of Americans with a run-of-the-mill case of ringing in your ear. If your symptoms seem to be evolving, with increasing severity or accompanied by new and unusual issues, contact your physician. 

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