Glandular Fever – Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Glandular fever (or infectious mononucleosis) is a viral infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is a part of the herpes group of viruses. The Epstein-Barr virus is very common, but unlike other types of herpes viruses, you may not show any symptoms when infected by it. Most people with glandular fever make a full recovery and never develop it again. Glandular fever is particularly common in teenagers and young adults, but it can affect anyone.

What causes Glandular Fever?

Kissing is one of the most common ways of catching glandular fever, as the infection gets transferred from one person to another through their saliva. That’s why glandular fever is popularly called the “kissing disease.” It can also spread through coughing and sneezing. The incubation period for the disease is usually 4 to 6 weeks.

Other factors that can increase the risk of getting glandular fever include sharing utensils or drinking glasses with an infected person, having close contact with infected individuals, and having a weakened immune system.

The virus responsible for glandular fever is called the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which belongs to the herpes family of viruses. EBV is found all over the world and is prevalent among children and adolescents. Once someone is infected with EBV, the virus remains in their body for life, but it usually remains dormant or inactive. However, the virus can be reactivated in some people, especially those with weakened immune systems, leading to recurrent symptoms of glandular fever.

If you suspect you may have glandular fever, it’s essential to seek medical attention promptly. Your doctor can perform tests to confirm the diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment to manage your symptoms.

Symptoms of Glandular Fever

The symptoms of glandular fever are:

  • Swollen tonsils and Sore throat – Similar to tonsillitis.
  • Rash – Doctors often misdiagnose glandular fever for tonsillitis and prescribe antibiotics, which results in a rash.
  • Enlarged and Sore Lymph Glands – Swelling of the lymph glands as seen in the neck as well as in the armpits and groin.
  • Flu-like symptoms – The Epstein-Barr virus causes high temperatures, body aches and pains, as well as loss of appetite and severe headaches.
  • Fatigue – You may experience an intense fatigue when you have glandular fever.
  • Swollen Eyes – Some people with glandular fever experience swollen and puffy eyes, but this symptom does not last for long.

If you find yourself suffering from any of these symptoms, it is important to visit a doctor immediately.

Glandular Fever – Diagnosis

Most doctors diagnose glandular fever from the symptoms alone, but some may ask for further blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. If the blood test shows the presence of abnormal cells called monocytes, then it confirms that you have glandular fever. Doctors may also take a throat swab to check for any signs of throat infection.

Glandular Fever – Treatment

No specific treatment is recommended for those suffering from glandular fever. Antibiotics cannot help much as the disease is caused by a viral infection. Doctors recommend antibiotics only if you have another infection along with glandular fever such as tonsillitis.

Most people take two to four weeks to recover fully from glandular fever. However, you will probably still suffer from extreme fatigue and so it may take several months before you recover from it fully and are 100% fit. The best treatment for this condition is complete rest. But you can take steps to relieve some of the symptoms:

  • Taking paracetamol would help relieve sore throat and bring the body temperature down. Ask your doctor for the right dosage.
  • It is important to drink a lot of water and fruit juice as well, as the body needs as much fluid as possible when suffering from this condition.
  • One of the treatments is to dissolve aspirin in water and then to gargle with it for a few minutes. This relieves sore throats to a large extent. Ask your doctor for advice on how to do this.

Glandular Fever – Complications

It’s very rare to have complications with glandular fever. However, you will an intense fatigue for a long time, even after the infection clears up. Some of the complications that you may develop are:

  • Enlarged Spleen – The spleen may swell up and when it does, it can be felt below the ribs, which causes mild pain. It returns to normal after the infection has been cured.
  • Jaundice – Jaundice is a consequence of mild liver disease. It is not all that serious and can be cured easily.
  • Anaemia – Anaemia is another of the complications that you may develop.
  • Enlarged tonsils – This might make breathing difficult.
  • Pneumonia – You may suffer from pneumonia as well, in the worst case scenario.


There is no way to prevent the spread of the glandular fever virus except to avoid kissing and close bodily contact with other people, especially if they are ill. Also, don’t share towels, cups and clothing with ill people. Avoid participating in sports or any intense physical activity for about 6 to 8 weeks after your glandular fever has been cured, especially if you’ve suffered from complications such as an enlarged spleen.

Photo by Zoom Health

Zoom Health is a leading UK supplier of Home Health Tests and Earplugs

This post was originally published in 2017. It was last updated in June 2023.

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