Autoimmune Disease and Prednisone Side Effects
In September 2013, without any warning, my left ear swelled up and became excruciatingly painful. My ear was so sensitive to touch that even one single hair or light current of air would make me almost scream in pain. After visiting several confused doctors, I was finally diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition called relapsing polychondritis (RP).
Few people have heard of RP. It is an autoimmune disease characterized by recurrent, increasingly destructive episodes of extremely painful inflammation of cartilage throughout the body — ears, nose, eyes, joints, and eventually, larynx and trachea. It is usually debilitating (cauliflower ears, saddle nose, blindness, deafness…). Over time, it can be life-threatening, particularly when it moves into the respiratory system.
When I inquired about how to treat my condition, my doctor’s words inspired little confidence:
“We don’t know what causes RP. It’s incurable and cannot be reversed. We can only manage it with drugs. The drugs will most likely eventually stop working, but once that happens, we will try some stronger drugs.”
He prescribed me prednisone, an immunosuppressive corticosteroid that is often the physician’s go-to choice for dealing with autoimmune conditions. Then, he wished me luck and sent me on my way.