Mononucleosis can take a toll on your teen and your entire family. Here are some of the most common signs of mono, as well as what you can do to support your teen physically and emotionally.
For most teens, a mononucleosis diagnosis may feel like the end of the world. They’ll feel bad for weeks, be prevented from doing most normal activities, and have to deal with the stigma of what’s known as “the kissing disease.”
If you’re supporting a teen with mono, it’s important to understand the causes, symptoms, and recovery time of the disease. While your child’s pediatrician can provide more detailed and specific information regarding your teen’s own case of mono, here are the basics:
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Mono
Infectious mononucleosis can be hard to spot. Despite its nickname, mono can be contracted by sharing saliva in any way, including sharing cups, forks, or glasses, and can incubate for months before symptoms appear. Some people who contract the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the virus that most commonly causes mono, never show symptoms at all, especially if they get it at a young age. For older children and teens with more developed immune systems, the first signs of mono are usually severe fatigue, headache, sore throat, and muscle aches.
If you suspect that your child has mono, doctors can perform several tests to confirm. The mononucleosis spot test detects antibodies in the blood that the body creates to fight mono. Because antibodies take several weeks to develop, if your teen is tested early into their case of mono, the test may come back negative.
Your teen could also receive a full mono panel, which can detect the viruses that cause mono, usually EBV or cytomegalovirus (CMV). Generally, your doctor won’t need to perform the full mono panel to confirm the diagnosis, but it may be recommended. If any of these tests confirm that your child has mono, expect that he or she will be acutely sick for two to three weeks.
Supporting Your Teen with Mono
Unfortunately, mono symptoms – especially fatigue – can continue long after the initial period of illness is over. Mono can take a child out of commission for weeks or months at a time, which can be very frustrating for teens with bustling social lives, plenty of extracurricular activities, and piles of homework. As a parent, be attentive to your child’s emotions during this time — they may feel depressed, worry about the social stigma of “kissing disease,” or fear that they’re missing out.
One of the best ways to support your child while they’re recovering from mono is to listen to how they’re feeling. If they seem to feel better one day but are back in bed for days after, that’s not abnormal; suspecting them of faking or exaggerating their illness will only do more harm. The only cure for mono is rest and hydration, so if your teen says they’re too tired to participate in an activity, it’s a good idea to believe them.
Another thing that parents can do to comfort their teens is encouraging friends to come over. Mono is hard to spread through the air, so it’s safe for friends to visit, play games, and cheer up your child. As your teen gets healthier, encourage them to go watch games and participate in their normal activities as much as they are able – just because they can’t play in their football game doesn’t mean they can’t cheer their teammates on. Most of all, remind your teen that this will pass. They won’t be restricted forever – in fact, by caring for themselves now, they’re ensuring that there aren’t any complications down the line.
Recovering from mono is challenging for both teens and parents, but love, support, patience, and rest are the best medicine. If you’re worried that your child has mono, or if you believe your child’s mono has worsened, contact Kids’ Health to talk to one of our expert pediatricians today.