Relapsing polychondritis is a rare degenerative condition with no cure. Treatment typically focuses on addressing symptoms and slowing the progression of the condition.

Relapsing polychondritis is a rare immune-mediated degenerative disease that causes cartilage inflammation in a person’s body, including the ears and nose.

Treatment often involves addressing a person’s symptoms and helping prevent disease progression. There is no cure for the condition.

This article reviews the goals of treatment for polychondritis and common treatment approaches.

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There is currently no cure for relapsing polychondritis. Treatment focuses on:

  • alleviating pain and other symptoms
  • controlling acute episodes of inflammation
  • preventing or reducing the severity of future immune system responses

There are also currently no standard treatments for the condition. Experts recommend doctors provide treatment based on effective therapy with the least number of side effects possible.

The following sections outline some common forms of treatment, why a doctor might recommend them, and possible risks and benefits.

Corticosteroids help to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. Oral prednisone is a common choice.

A healthcare professional may recommend steroids for long-term treatment to help suppress the immune system.


People who develop a resistance to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or who have more serious forms may benefit from their use.


Prednisone and other corticosteroids can cause several potential side effects. They can include:

Certain people, such as those living with diabetes or pregnant people, should avoid using them.

A person should discuss side effects with a healthcare professional to determine the best option for them.

NSAIDs are a form of pain relief medication that also reduce inflammation. They are available in both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription forms.

A healthcare professional may recommend a person uses them for mild cases of relapsing polychondritis to help control pain and swelling.


Possible benefits of NSAIDs can include:

  • available in both prescription and nonprescription forms
  • often cost-effective
  • can provide relief to mild cases


NSAIDs can cause a variety of potential side effects. They can include:

NSAIDs can also interact with other medications and may not be safe for certain groups of people, such as those with stomach ulcers or who are pregnant, among others. A person should review their medications and medical history with a doctor before taking them.

Immunosuppressants can help calm the immune system. In cases of immune-mediated diseases, such as relapsing polychondritis, they can help prevent relapses of the disease or further damage to the joints or cartilage.

Some common examples include:


A doctor may prescribe immunosuppressants to treat relapsing polychondritis if:

  • a person cannot take corticosteroids or are not responsive to them
  • a person has severe symptoms that can affect the organs


Immunosuppressants can cause different side effects depending on the type a person uses. People should ask a health professional or pharmacist about potential side effects.

All immunosuppressants can increase a person’s risk of infection. They help calm or diminish the immune system’s response, making people more susceptible to infections.

A person may need to take additional steps to help prevent infection when undergoing immunosuppressant therapy.

Learn more about autoimmune conditions here.

Healthcare professionals might recommend surgery to replace heart valves where relapsing polychondritis affects the heart valves.

According to a 2018 updated review, heart valve issues affect about 10% of people with relapsing polychondritis. Aortic regurgitation occurs in 4–6% of all people with the condition. Regurgitation happens when the valves are leaky, or blood flows back through the valves.

The presence of either may require surgical correction.


Heart valve replacement surgery can help fix issues with the heart. This may help prevent heart strain, which can lead to heart disease or other issues.

If a person is symptomatic, the procedure may prevent:


Risks of surgery can vary based on the procedure a person undergoes. Surgery can involve open heart surgery or port access. Port access requires a smaller incision and is less invasive than open heart surgery.

A person should discuss the available surgical options with their healthcare team to determine the best option for them.

Learn more about the risks and benefits of heart valve replacement surgery here.

Relapsing polychondritis can cause the trachea (the tube that connects a person’s voice box to their lungs) to become “floppy.” This can cause breathing or eating issues, which may mean a person requires a tracheostomy.

A tracheostomy is a procedure that involves placing a breathing tube into the trachea to allow a person to breathe.

Typically, doctors only recommend this procedure in more extreme situations, when a person has difficulty breathing.


When relapsing polychondritis causes breathing issues, a tracheostomy can help correct this.


A tracheostomy has some associated risks and potential complications. A 2017 study identified that risks include the continued use of a breathing tube and the potential for complications.

The study found that doctors often over-emphasize the benefits of the breathing tube rather than addressing the physical complications, such as the risk of infection or obstruction of the airways.

A person should discuss the potential for complications with a healthcare professional before the procedure to determine if a tracheostomy is the best option for them.

Learn more about what to expect from a tracheotomy procedure.

A person should talk with a healthcare professional if they experience unusual symptoms, such as pain in their outer ears, which may indicate relapsing polychondritis.

However, due to the generally vague and often unnoticed onset of the symptoms associated with relapsing polychondritis, it may take some time for doctors to properly diagnose the condition. The average time for diagnosis is about 2.9 years.

A person diagnosed with relapsing polychondritis and undergoing treatment should let a healthcare professional know if their symptoms worsen or do not improve. They may be able to offer additional options.

The following sections can help answer commonly asked questions about relapsing polychondritis.

Can relapsing polychondritis be cured?

There is no cure for relapsing polychondritis. Treatment focuses on addressing symptoms and preventing disease progression.

How long can a person live with relapsing polychondritis?

In recent years, survival rates have improved from 70% after 5 years to 94% after 8 years and 91% after 10 years. Most people diagnosed with relapsing polychondritis are alive more than 10 years later.

Relapsing polychondritis treatments focus on helping with symptoms and preventing worsening symptoms.

The treatments either focus directly on relieving the symptoms, such as NSAIDs, or are more systemic and focus on suppressing the immune system. Some people may need surgery to replace heart valves or insert a breathing tube.

A person should talk with a doctor about the best treatment options that take into account their risks and benefits.