Stop, Look, and Listen: Disorders that Mess with our Senses
We all expect certain things, like vision and hearing, to gradually change and perhaps even diminish as we grow older. But what happens when your vision or hearing change dramatically and suddenly at a young age? That’s usually a sign that there’s something seriously wrong inside your head. (Yep, go ahead. Make the “it’s all in your head” joke now. I’ll wait…) Often, that “something” is feared to be brain cancer. We envision tumors the size of golf balls pressing on our skull until it cracks. We plan our wake, right down to the dress we’ll be wearing as all our loved ones file past. But not all vision and hearing losses are truly terrible in origin. And not all vision and hearing losses require open-brain surgeries to correct them, either. Let’s take a look at some less-than-deadly causes of vision and hearing loss, and what’s being done about them.
Acoustic neuroma – Now, an acoustic neuroma is technically a brain tumor, but it isn’t a malignant one, and it usually poses no threat to your life. It’s a tumor that grows around the audio nerves, causing your hearing to diminish. If left untreated, it can endanger your hearing permanently, and even cause headache and other nasty symptoms to occur. Acoustic neuroma surgery isn’t really surgery at all. Using gamma knife radiotherapy, doctors are able to stop the growth of the neuroma and restore hearing without ever wielding a scalpel. Gamma knife radiotherapy is actually a form of metastatic brain tumor treatment. However, in the case of acoustic neuromas, it has proven just as effective as it is against the nastier, scarier tumors we all fear.
Ischemic vision loss – Ischemia is a condition in which something causes a constriction, or blockage, of blood flow. Ischemic vision loss is sudden, painless, and can last from seconds to hours to permanently (if not treated). We’ve all had episodes where we “stood up too fast” and saw black spots. These are typically caused by lowered blood pressure. Ischemia is usually more involved than that. It is a lack of blood caused by a blockage or tightening of the arteries. High blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and high cholesterol can all cause ischemic vision loss. These can all be treated through medication and changes in diet and lifestyle. If left untreated, ischemic vision loss can become permanent, as the loss of blood flow permanently damages the tissues of the eye and visual system beyond repair. Therefore, any and all sudden loss of vision should be checked out by a doctor, especially if it lasts more than a minute or so.
So, even though acoustic neuromas and ischemic vision loss are nothing to ignore, their symptoms don’t have to leave you quavering in fear for your life. Both are easily and effectively treated if diagnosed in time.