Mononucleosis. Mono. The kissing disease. The ultimate bane of teenage life. Those who are quick to pass judgment might assume you have a reputation of promiscuity—which isn’t always negative (no judgement). As well, even if kissin’ is positive, it’s possible to get it from other sources. The disease itself is definitely a negative experience, regardless of people’s opinions on how you got it. All energy levels in your body disappear with a POOF! and you are left a useless, limp bag of bones and muscle. You are unable to go to school, work or do much of anything. As terrible as it may seem, it’s a very survivable problem, with very few complications. If you want to continue to lie on the couch playing video games with a valid excuse, though, stop reading here. Otherwise, keep reading for some solid advice.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, mono is defined as a virus transmitted through saliva. Sources of transmission can include: kissing, a cough or sneeze, or by sharing a glass or food utensils with someone who has mono.

On the bright side, you have far better of a chance of catching the common cold that you do mono. This is because that even though mono tends to be one of the most reported infections among the human population, it is nowhere near as frequent as the cold, mostly due to just how UTTERLY exhausted those infected with mono get, effectively keeping them out of the general population (unlike those with colds, who tend to grin-n-bear it and infecting the rest of us…don’t trust or be people like that).

Mono Symptoms

You may (not definitely, but maybe) have mono if you are feeling any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes in neck
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Red spots in mouth
  • Skin rash

Best Mono Treatments

If you suspect that you have mono, go to the doctor (obviously).

Obviously because while some of the symptoms mentioned in the bulleted list above would make the most rational adult worry (rashes for instance – most people worry about strange or unexplainable rashes), some may not seem that bad (a loss of appetite, or a headache that won’t go away). But if any of these symptoms show up along with swollen and painful or tender spots on your throat, do yourself a huge favor and go to the doctor, just to make sure it’s either mono or something else. There are mono blood tests, but a physical examination may be all that is necessary. Upon confirmation, the doctor will probably give you some advice on how to ride out the illness and treat the symptoms.

Plan on spending a couple weeks resting yourself and avoiding activity.

Not every case is the same, but most people who get mono aren’t going to be able to do much for a couple weeks, maybe even a month in bad cases. Just let your body do that voodoo that it do so well – that is, heal itself. Most of the time mono will clear up on its own. Take it easy and make sure to drink a lot of fluids. Any clear fluid is best. The mono page on the Mayo Clinic website suggest water, clear pop (Sprite, 7Up, Sierra Mist…those kinds), and fruit juices (low acid is best since your throat will be rather sore and raw – think apple juice).
Another good source for fluids to help keep your body balanced and hydrated would be things like Pedialyte or other electrolyte (the things that keep your body functioning) replenishing drinks. Once the worst is over, you need to ease gradually back into your normal life and eating habits. It may take a couple months for you to feel normal again (though what really is normal but a setting on a clothes dryer…sorry. Bad joke).

There aren’t any medications for mono, but you can treat the symptoms.

As mentioned above, bed rest and ample fluid intake are the two most important things. To reduce fever and swelling, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol, sold at Amazon) or ibuprofen (Advil). If you suffer severe swelling of your throat to the point where breathing and swallowing are a problem, your doctor might prescribe a steroid to help alleviate the pain and major discomfort.

It takes time to recover from mono.

You may also be contagious for weeks or months after the infection, so be careful and watchful your physical interactions with people, and try to increase handwashing and don’t share things where saliva (remember – the main vehicle that mono is spread through) with anyone until you are sure you are free and clear of the infection. You don’t want to spread the love, so to speak. Also, be sure to avoid contact sports or interactions that may risk impacting your abdomen, as your spleen is more susceptible to rupturing during this time—and that would be bad. With any luck you’ll only have to go through this once.

Mono Remedies

Stay hydrated. Like mentioned earlier, you need to drink a lot of fluids when you’re sick, especially if you’ve lost your appetite and you’ve been taking pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

Saltwater. Gargling with saltwater can help relieve the pain of a sore throat. Mix a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water, gargle, and rinse your mouth several times a day.

Sweet stuff. It’s a good idea to keep your throat moist by sucking on a piece of candy or throat lozenge (like these Zinc Lozenges from Sunkist at Amazon); soft fruits (think like bananas, really ripe pears, applesauce, possibly really ripe melons or watermelon as well) and Popsicles are some other alternatives.

Regular, small meals. At first you may not be able to handle much solid food once you start to feel even just a little bit better, so keep up with the juices and try introducing clear soups. From there work your way up to small, soft meals five times daily (rice, oatmeal, pasta, soft fruits and cooked veggies…I know it doesn’t sound appetizing, but this is the way to go. Trust me. Seriously.

Chronic Mononucleosis and Other Risks

Symptoms from your bout with mononucleosis, such as fatigue, can last for months. This is normal and usually resolves itself. Some people have a relapse or their mono can warp into other infections that mimic some of the symptoms of mono – some of these include strep throat and tonsillitis.

Ruptured spleens are another significant, and thankfully extremely rare, risk. More than half of people who experience IM will have an enlarged spleen. Very rarely they will rupture due to accidental impact and even more rarely they will rupture spontaneously. The outlook is good if it is treated immediately, though occasionally they need to be surgically removed. So, while healing from mono avoid major physical activity of ANY kind.

That means absolutely no resuming your superhero identity until you are fully healed, okay? There are other supes out there who will pick up the slack. Just stay as your mild mannered alter-identity and drink your apple juice, munch on a banana, take some Advil, and play video games until you’re better. Mono won’t keep you down for long.

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Casey Fisher

Casey Fisher