Photo Rounds

Left ear pain

A 25-year-old woman presented to her family physician (FP) with left ear pain for the past 3 days. She said that her ear felt swollen and looked red in the mirror. She denied any health problems or trauma to the area and said that she’d not taken any medications. Upon further questioning, she admitted to using cocaine in the past 2 weeks. She said that she’d snorted the cocaine, but didn’t inject any into her veins or skin.

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Pain in left ear

The FP suspected cutaneous vasculitis of the ear caused by levamisole-adulterated cocaine.

Levamisole is an antihelminthic drug approved for veterinary purposes. In the past, the drug had been used as an immune modulator in autoimmune disorders, but no longer is considered safe for human use, as it can cause agranulocytosis. Sellers around the world often lace cocaine with levamisole because it boosts the profits and potentiates the psychoactive effects of the cocaine. Cutaneous vasculitis secondary to levamisole-adulterated cocaine has been reported many times in the literature.

Levamisole-associated vasculitis presents with ear purpura, retiform (like a net) purpura of the trunk or extremities, and neutropenia. Patients will test positive for perinuclear antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (pANCA). This cutaneous vasculitis also may present on the nose or face. There are reports of cocaine/levamisole-associated autoimmune syndrome involving agranulocytosis and cutaneous vasculitis.

The patient tested positive for pANCA, as was expected. The FP told her to discontinue her cocaine use, as she ran the risk of worse manifestations. She refused any treatment for her drug use and stated she could stop it on her own. The FP referred the patient to Dermatology, but the vasculitis was barely visible by the time she was seen. Convincing the patient not to use cocaine again remained the only treatment.

Photo courtesy of Jon Karnes, MD, and text for Photo Rounds Friday courtesy of Richard P. Usatine, MD. This case was adapted from: Mayeaux EJ, Usatine R, Martin N, et al. Vasculitis. In: Usatine R, Smith M, Mayeaux EJ, et al, eds. Color Atlas and Synopsis of Family Medicine. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2019:1169-1173.

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