Mono is short for mononucleosis, a disease that is most common in teenagers and young adults. Mono is caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and spread mainly through saliva. It is also possible that mono can be spread through sexual intercourse, but this has not been proven conclusively.
Many people--in fact, almost all people--have been infected with EBV at some point in their lives, but the infection does not usually result in infectious mononucleosis. Once you have been infected with EBV it remains in your blood forever. The virus is usually in a dormant (sleep-like) state, but at certain periods in your life it can activate and you can then spread EBV to others. Epstein-Barr virus has also been associated with chronic fatigue syndrome and is being investigated as the cause of other illnesses as well.
Symptoms of mono include extreme fatigue, swollen tonsils and lymph nodes, and what some describe as the worst sore throat of their lives. Mono is easily diagnosed using a mono-spot test. Your blood is drawn, and if certain antibodies are present in the blood, the test is positive.
Because mono is caused by a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Therefore, treatment is intended to manage symptoms until your body can fight the illness on its own. You can give your immune system a boost by getting plenty of rest and drinking a lot of water.
Treating the Pain of MonoThe sore throat associated with mono can be treated using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. If necessary, your doctor may prescribe something stronger. Additionally, traditional remedies for a sore throat can be used. For more information you may wish to read:
- Readers Respond: Home Remedies for Tonsillitis and Sore Throat
- Managing Throat Pain
- Treating a Sore Throat With Steroids
FatigueWhile stimulants like caffeine might seem like a good idea for combating the extreme fatigue caused by mono it's really better to just rest. Good quality sleep is necessary for a strong immune system; stimulants can interfere with your quality of sleep (when you do fall asleep). In most individuals fatigue resolves in three to four weeks.
FeverA fever is best controlled using OTC medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. You can also lower the temperature of your room, take a lukewarm (not cold) bath or put a cold wash cloth on your forehead. If your fever remains uncontrolled after doing this you should seek medical attention to avoid dangerous complications. For more information, read: Fever: When to See a Doctor
Swollen Tonsils and Lymph Nodes
Swollen tonsils and lymph nodes usually are not a big deal and go away on their own. However, if they become so swollen that they interfere with swallowing or breathing you need treatment right away. Sometimes steroid medications are used to shrink the tonsils.
Body AchesIf you feel achy you can use OTC pain relievers and ointments (examples include Icy-Hot, Tiger Balm or other ointments, usually menthol based.) You can also use ice packs or heating pads to ease body aches related to mono. If the pain is still not tolerable call your doctor.
Symptoms resolve in most people with mono in about a month, but it can take longer.
CDC. Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis. Accessed: August 27, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/ebv.htm