Corby Davidson, a longtime sports radio host on The Ticket, recently shared that he has a benign tumor that is affecting his hearing.
Davidson explained last week on The Ticket’s weekday afternoon show, The Hardline, that the left ear recently started ringing and feeling “water-saturated”. An MRI brain scan revealed he has a non-cancerous tumor called an acoustic neuroma that can impair hearing and balance.
Ticket fans need not worry, however, according to Davidson. “[I’ve got] quite a rosy attitude about it all,” he shared Dallas Morning News.
What are acoustic neuromas?
Acoustic neuromas develop on the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. They are slow-growing, non-cancerous tumors that can take years to develop, making them easy to miss.
Davidson said his doctor told him his tumor had probably been growing for the past four to five years, but that he only recently started having symptoms.
How do acoustic neuromas affect the brain?
Davidson said he watched the series finale of the show Atlanta on the computer with headphones in. When he finished the show and removed the headphones, he noticed that his left ear felt “very strange,” like there was water inside.
“It is like [the sound is] “Coming through a broken speaker is the best way I can describe it,” he said.
Unlike cancerous tumors, acoustic neuromas do not destroy healthy brain tissue, according to Dr. Sam Barnett, a neurosurgeon at UT Southwestern Medical Center and an acoustic neuroma expert.
But they can press on nearby nerves and brain structures, affecting brain function. For example, they put pressure on a nerve whose branches control hearing and balance, leading to problems such as instability and hearing loss.
How common is it?
Acoustic neuromas are rare, Barnett said. For most, he said, they are idiopathic, meaning they occur “just by bad luck.” They affect men and women equally.
“There are no specific causes or risk factors for [acoustic neuromas],” he said.
People in their 40s and 50s most often develop acoustic neuromas, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Davidson is 53.
What are the symptoms?
When Davidson first heard ringing in his ears, he went to bed thinking he would be fine the next morning. But the ringing was still there the next day.
“Every now and then it creeps up and you think, OK, this is constant,” he said.
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is a symptom of an acoustic neuroma, Barnett said. Other symptoms include problems with balance and gradual hearing loss that is usually more severe on one side.
Davidson continued The Hardline that conversations can sound a bit like the voice of the teacher from Peanuts TV series: muted and distorted.
Can it be treated?
Davidson said his tumor is in the “monitoring phase,” according to his doctor. He will have an MRI scan and meet with an ear, nose and throat specialist a few times a year to see if the tumor is growing.
There are three main options for treating an acoustic neuroma, according to Barnett. One, as Davidson mentioned, is observation: monitoring the tumor and the patient’s hearing to make sure everything is staying stable. Another option is radiation, which can shrink the size of the tumor but can cause negative side effects, Barnett said.
The last option is to surgically remove the tumor. Barnett said this is usually recommended for larger tumors, but there is a risk of hearing loss after the surgery.
It’s a risk Davidson is not yet willing to take, especially when there’s a chance the tumor will never grow.
“I have salvageable hearing in that ear,” he said. “Even though it’s weird, it’s still there, and it’s better than nothing.”
Only in extreme cases do acoustic neuromas grow and cause more severe symptoms, such as difficulty walking, Barnett said. As for the hearing loss, “a lot of people learn to live with it,” he said.
Davidson has had no problems with balance and is getting used to the hearing loss. At the weekend he went to a concert, worried that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy live music anymore. But he was still fine.
“I had earplugs, which I think are going to be my new best friend,” he recalled. “And it was great. So I was happy with that.”
Adithi Ramakrishnan is a science reporting fellow at The Dallas Morning News. Her fellowship is supported by the University of Texas at Dallas. The news makes all editorial decisions.