What is mono?

Mononucleosis, or mono, is an infectious illness that is easily passed from person to person. A common name for mono is “the kissing disease,” since mono is spread through saliva. However, there are many other ways that children can get mono.

This illness can occur at any age, but it is most common in teens and young adults. It’s very contagious, and people with mono might not know they have it since they may have no symptoms. Others may experience symptoms that are similar to the flu.

Once you contract mononucleosis, the virus remains in your blood cells and throat for the rest of your life. However, it becomes inactive once you’ve recovered and it usually doesn’t cause you to become sick again.

Symptoms of mono in kids

When a child has mono, the symptoms typically last for one or two months. They may experience no symptoms or some or all of the following:

Swollen lymph glands

Another name for mononucleosis is “glandular fever,” since one of the most common symptoms of mono is swollen lymph glands. There are lymph glands all over the body. When a child has mono, the lymph glands in the neck, armpits, and groin swell.

Fatigue

Another sign of mono is fatigue or a feeling of extreme tiredness. Mono is very common in high school and college students since the virus usually doesn’t activate until the individual is worn out. Once symptoms set in, the virus causes you to feel very tired or fatigued.

Fever

One of the first mono symptoms that kids may experience is fever. Young children typically only experience a low fever.

Aches

People who have mono often experience headaches, which can be severe. All-over body aches are also quite common.

Sore throat

When kids have mono, they might find it difficult to swallow or have a sore throat. This happens because of enlarged tonsils, or tonsillitis. White patches may also appear on the throat.

Enlarged spleen

Children with mono may also have an enlarged spleen. This organ causes antibodies to fight infection and filters the blood.

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Causes of mono in kids

There are two different viruses that can cause mono. Both viruses are part of the herpes simplex family:

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) causes most cases of mono. Many kids come into contact with this virus at some point during childhood. Babies and young children often develop mild symptoms or none at all. Older children usually develop typical symptoms of mononucleosis.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) may also cause mono, though this is less common. Most people who have CMV don’t show symptoms of mono.

Both of these viruses travel easily through saliva. Kids can contract EBV or CMV through sharing straws, cups, or eating utensils. It can also transfer from one person to another through actions like sneezing or coughing near someone.

Once a child becomes infected, symptoms appear four to six weeks later. Most commonly, mononucleosis symptoms go away after a month or two, but sometimes they may take up to four months to go away. Preventing mono is nearly impossible since many kids and adults who carry the virus don’t show symptoms or know that they have it.

When to see the doctor for mono

If your child shows symptoms of mono, you should contact your healthcare provider or doctor. Watch your child’s symptoms and take note of the symptoms that don’t improve or get worse. Also, note if your child has new symptoms of mono that they didn’t have before. In both cases, you should take your child to see a doctor.

Diagnosis for mono

To correctly diagnose mono, your child’s doctor will ask about their symptoms and health history. A physical exam is helpful to check for symptoms as well. Doctors may also order a blood test to check for antibodies, white blood cell count, and assess liver function.

Treatments for mono

Once diagnosed, your child’s doctor will decide the best treatment. This depends on the child’s age, symptoms, and overall health. Usually, prescription medications aren’t necessary to treat mono. Instead, the best thing you can do is help care for your child’s symptoms.

The best way for kids to get over mono is to rest. Usually, one month of rest is necessary to help the body fight off the virus. This, combined with drinking plenty of fluids, helps relieve symptoms over the following weeks.

Children should not play sports or exercise during this time since it can cause damage to the enlarged spleen. This includes playing at home in a rough way or lifting heavy objects.

If your child has pain or discomfort from a sore throat, fever, or body aches, you may give them ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You shouldn’t give your child aspirin, as this may cause another serious illness called Reye syndrome.

Doctors may prescribe corticosteroids if your child’s throat and tonsils are particularly swollen and if they are having trouble breathing or swallowing.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2021
References
Boston Children’s Hospital: “Infectious Mononucleosis.”

Cedars Sinai: “Infectious Mononucleosis (Mono) in Teens and Young Adults.”

Children’s National: “Pediatric Infectious Mononucleosis.”

KidsHealth: “Mononucleosis (Mono).”

Nationwide Children’s: “Mononucleosis (Infectious).”

St. Louis Children’s Hospital: “Mononucleosis.”