There is no cure for mononucleosis, so treatment focuses on reducing symptoms until a person recovers. Treatments may include rest, staying hydrated, and using over-the-counter pain medications.

Infectious mononucleosis, also known as glandular fever, mono, or the kissing disease, usually occurs due to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It causes symptoms such as a sore throat, muscle aches, and fever.

Mono typically resolves on its own, but symptoms can be uncomfortable and disruptive.

This article explores the treatment for mononucleosis and practical strategies people can use to ease symptoms.

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Treating mono primarily focuses on managing symptoms and allowing the body’s immune system to respond to the infection. Some strategies that may help with this include:

  • Rest: Fatigue is a common symptom of mono. People can take time off from work or school to allow their bodies to recover. They also need to avoid physical exertion until they feel better.
  • Hydration: People can drink fluids, such as water and soups, to stay hydrated.
  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), may help reduce fever, headache, and body aches.
  • Sore throat relief: Gargling with warm salt water or using OTC sprays may help soothe a sore throat. If any foods or drinks irritate the throat, such as acidic or spicy foods, it might be best to avoid them temporarily.

In children, EBV typically causes no symptoms or only mild symptoms similar to those of a cold. When children develop symptoms, mononucleosis treatments are similar to those of adults, consisting of:

  • rest
  • hydration
  • pain medications, where appropriate

For children, doctors may recommend acetaminophen to relieve pain or fever. A doctor or pharmacist can advise on the right medication and dosage for the child’s age.

However, it is important to note that children should avoid taking aspirin. This medication can lead to a rare but severe condition in children known as Reye’s syndrome, which affects the liver and brain.

There is no fast way to get rid of mono. This is because EBV, the virus that usually causes mono, has no cure. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, and a 2017 study notes that no antiviral drugs have proven effective.

Therefore, the most reliable path to a full recovery from mono involves time, rest, and symptom management.

Infectious mononucleosis typically follows a pattern with several stages:

  • Incubation period: The first stage begins after exposure to the virus. During the incubation period, which usually lasts 3–6 weeks, an individual may not experience any symptoms. EBV starts to cause infection and multiply in the cells of the throat and immune system during this phase.
  • Prodromal stage: This stage marks the onset of symptoms. Typical early signs include fatigue and malaise, or a general sense of feeling unwell.
  • Acute stage: This stage causes more pronounced symptoms, including a persistent sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. In some cases, the spleen may become enlarged, leading to abdominal pain or discomfort.
  • Convalescent stage: As the acute symptoms gradually improve, the convalescent stage begins. This phase can last for several weeks or months. Fatigue tends to persist, but other symptoms slowly subside.
  • Resolution: In the final stage, the symptoms eventually resolve completely, and the individual starts feeling better. The duration of the resolution stage varies from person to person.

Not everyone with mono experiences all of these stages, and the severity and duration of symptoms can vary widely between individuals.

Most people with mono recover in 2–4 weeks, but the fatigue sometimes lasts for several more weeks. In some cases, symptoms may last 6 months or longer.

The duration of mono recovery can vary from person to person. While most individuals start feeling better within 4 weeks after the onset of symptoms, some may experience lingering fatigue that persists for several weeks or months.

Fatigue is a sign that the body needs rest. People need to avoid rushing back into their regular routine before they are ready. Gradually reintroducing movement can help a person gauge what they are currently capable of. As they continue to improve, they can get back to their usual activities.

Some individuals develop an enlarged spleen as a complication of mono. An enlarged spleen can rupture, so people with this condition need to avoid activities that may involve contact or trauma to the abdomen, such as heavy lifting or contact sports.

Individuals with an enlarged spleen should avoid strenuous activities until they receive medical clearance to prevent potential complications. However, splenic rupture is rare, affecting 0.1 to 0.5% of people with mononucleosis.

Most cases of mono resolve on their own, but if symptoms do not improve after several weeks or get worse, a person needs to seek medical attention.

People also need immediate medical attention if they develop:

  • a persistent high fever, especially in children
  • severe throat pain that makes it difficult to swallow or talk
  • difficulty breathing
  • a stiff neck
  • nausea and vomiting
  • a rash that does not disappear under a glass
  • drowsiness or difficulty staying awake
  • sudden or severe abdominal pain, especially if it is on the upper left side

Treatment for mononucleosis involves resting, staying hydrated, and taking pain medications to reduce aches and fever.

The treatments for children are similar to those for adults, but they may need to take different medications or dosages depending on their age.

Antibiotics do not help with mono. There are no specific medications to cure mono or reduce infection length. Despite this, most people recover within 2–4 weeks.

Anyone with severe or concerning symptoms needs to seek medical attention.