How is Mono Treated?

Symptom Management for Mono

Teenage girl with sore throat
Teenage girl with sore throat. Stockbyte/Getty Images

What is Mono?

Mono is short for mononucleosis, a disease that is most common in teenagers and young adults. Because mono is most prominent in the younger age group and caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is spread mainly through saliva, it is referred to as "the kissing disease". It is also suspected 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. Don't let this worry you though, as the virus is usually in a dormant (sleep-like) state.However, after having been exposed to the virus, you may intermittently be contagious (by "shedding" the virus) and be able to 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

The symptoms of mono can be very bothersome and lead to a loss of school, work, or general quality of life. The two most bothersome symptoms of mono include extreme fatigue and swollen tonsils. The tonsils can swell to the point of almost touching and you may have heard others describe mono as the worst sore throat of their lives.

 You can also experience other symptoms listed below.

Your blood is drawn, and if antibodies (heterophile antibodies) are present in the blood, the test is positive and you have EBV. Because mono is caused by a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Therefore, treatment is based on managing 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.

Sore Throat

You can typically manage sore throat associated with mono by using over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. If necessary, your doctor may prescribe something stronger like a narcotic or steroids. Additionally, traditional remedies for a sore throat can be used.


While stimulants, like caffeine, might seem like a good idea for combating the extreme fatigue caused by mono, you really should just take the time to just rest. Sometimes you may want to get up and do things because you are afraid that others will think you are lazy, however, good quality sleep is necessary for a strong immune system. Using stimulants like caffeine may only serve to interfere with your quality of sleep. In most individuals fatigue resolves in three to four weeks.


A 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.

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 Aches

Feeling achy can be quite common with mono. You can use OTC pain relievers and ointments (examples include Icy-Hot, Tiger Balm or other ointments that are usually menthol based.) You can also use ice packs or heating pads to relieve body aches. If the pain is still not tolerable call your doctor.

Most symptoms resolve in most people with mono in about a month, but it can take longer. Particularly fatigue, which may not fully resolve for up to six-months, however this is highly variable, so you may recover much faster.


CDC. Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis. Accessed: January 13, 2016 from

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