Infectious mononucleosis, also called “mono” for short, commonly affects adolescents and young adults. However, anyone can get it, at any age.
This viral disease leaves you feeling tired, feverish, weak, and achy.
Here’s what you should know about causes, treatments, prevention, and potential complications of infectious mono.
There are several things you can do to care for yourself or a family member with mono.
Get lots of rest
This piece of advice shouldn’t be difficult to follow. Most people with mono are extremely tired. Don’t try to “power through.” Give yourself plenty of time to recover.
Drink lots of liquids
It’s important to stay hydrated to help fight off mono. Consider sipping warm chicken soup. It provides soothing, easy-to-swallow nutrition.
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with pain and fever, but they don’t cure the disease. Be aware: These medicines can cause liver and kidney problems, respectively. Don’t overdo it or use them if you have problems with these organs.
Never give children or teenagers aspirin. It can put them at a higher risk to develop Reye’s syndrome. This is a serious condition involving swelling of the liver and brain.
Avoid strenuous activities
Do not participate in strenuous activities like sports or weight lifting for four to six weeks after you’ve been diagnosed. Mono can affect your spleen, and vigorous activity can cause it to rupture.
Get relief for your sore throat
Gargling salt water, taking lozenges, sucking on freezer pops or ice cubes, or resting your voice can all help your throat feel better.
Once your doctor has confirmed you have mono, you may be prescribed certain medications such as a corticosteroid. A corticosteroid will help reduce inflammation and swelling in your lymph nodes, tonsils, and airway.
While these problems usually go away on their own within a month or two, this type of medicine can help open your airway and allow you to breathe more easily.
Sometimes, people also get strep throat or a bacterial sinus infection as a result of mono. While the mono itself is not affected by antibiotics, these secondary bacterial infections can be treated with them.
Your doctor probably won’t prescribe amoxicillin or penicillin-type medications when you have mono. They can cause a rash, a known side effect of these drugs.
Mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. This virus infects about 95 percent of the world’s population at some point Most people have become infected with it by the time they’re 30 years old.
However, different viruses can cause infectious mononucleosis too, including:
- rubella virus (causes German measles)
- hepatitis A, B, and C viruses
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis, can also cause infectious mononucleosis.
While not everyone who gets the Epstein-Barr virus develops mono, at least teenagers and young adults who become infected do develop it.
Because the cause of mono is a virus, antibiotics do not help to resolve the disease itself. Even antiviral medications don’t work on the majority of cases, so it’s important to take care of yourself while you have mono and report any severe or unusual symptoms to your doctor right away.
Mono usually lasts for a month or two. The sore throat and fever may clear up before the general fatigue and swelling in your throat go away, however.
Medical complications can arise as a result of mono. These include:
complications of mono
- enlargement of the spleen
- liver problems, including hepatitis and related jaundice
- inflammation of the heart muscle
- meningitis and encephalitis
In addition, recent evidence indicates that mono can trigger certain autoimmune diseases, including:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- multiple sclerosis
- inflammatory bowel disease
Once you have had mono, the Epstein-Barr virus will remain in your body for the rest of your life. However, because you develop antibodies in your blood once you’ve had it, it will likely stay deactivated. It’s rare that you will ever have symptoms again.
Mono is very common. Although many people get it at some point in their lifetimes, there’s unfortunately no vaccine against it.
You can help prevent spreading mono when you’re ill by not sharing your food or eating utensils, and of course, by not kissing others until you’ve fully recovered.
While mononucleosis can make you feel tired and miserable, most people recover well and don’t experience long-term complications. If you do get it, consulting your physician and taking good care of yourself are the best ways to help recover.