It's easy to be concerned that you've caught COVID-19 if you have a tickle in your throat or a twinge of a cough. You can receive piece of mind by taking an at-home COVID-19 test, in addition to remaining away from friends and family just in case.
However, there are other options accessible, which might be perplexing. Read on to learn how to choose and take an at-home COVID-19 test from microbiologist and pathologist Daniel Rhoads, MD.
What to Look for When Choosing a COVID-19 Test
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved two types of at-home tests under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) program (FDA).
An antigen test reveals whether you have certain proteins (or antigens) associated with the SARS-COV-2 virus, and is the most prevalent. There are additional molecular tests that can identify genetic material.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) lab test, which is a frequent COVID-19 test you'd get from your doctor, is also a molecular test. The PCR test will also tell you if you contain genetic material linked to the SARS-COV-2 virus.
Because there are so many options, Dr. Rhoads recommends taking a test to figure out what you want to get out of it. He says, "I always encourage everyone to start with a goal." "Is it your intention to screen?" Is it for the purpose of diagnosing? "How are you going to interpret it if there are symptoms and you're trying to confirm that you have an infection, no matter what test you use?"
Although PCR tests are more sensitive to the virus's presence in your body, the results of at-home antigen tests are regarded accurate. However, there are a few factors that influence the accuracy of at-home examinations. These include whether or not you accurately acquired your sample and when you tested. If you test soon after becoming infected, for example, you may not get a positive result right away.
"The take-home message," Dr. Rhoads explains, "is that if you receive a good result, it's probably a true positive." "However, these antigen assays are not as sensitive as PCR tests." So just because you don't feel unwell and the test comes back negative doesn't imply you don't have COVID." If you're not sure what to do, Dr. Rhoads suggests following the CDC's guidelines for interpreting antigen test results.
Steps to take when taking the COVID-19 test at home
It's natural to feel nervous or terrified when taking an at-home COVID-19 test for the first time. Plus, putting a swab in your nose to obtain a mucus sample isn't always pleasant.
According to Dr. Rhoads, the best advice for all of these tests is to "follow the package insert" for the specific test you're taking. Every at-home exam includes a slightly distinct set of instructions and operates in a little different manner.
Some at-home tests, for example, propose serial testing, which entails taking multiple tests over a period of time. "Some of them say to take one test now and the second test a certain number of hours or days later," Dr. Rhoads explains. "It's likely that the FDA included that because they realize that these tests aren't as sensitive as PCR tests."
Although at-home tests come with step-by-step instructions, you may be concerned about following them correctly. There are, fortunately, resources available to you. If you purchased the test from a pharmacy, you could seek assistance from the pharmacist. Your healthcare professional may also be able to assist you with advice.
Videos provided by the test manufacturer are also useful tools. The Ellume COVID-19 home test, for example, features an app that can guide you through the testing process. Just make sure you're not watching a video for one test and assuming it'll work for all of them. "If the company provides a video, watch it," Dr. Rhoads advises. "You don't want to use one manufacturer's test while watching a different video." That will only add to the uncertainty."
Is it necessary to swab your throat for COVID-19?
Many COVID-19 tests require you to swab your nose to acquire a sample of bodily fluid for testing. However, you may have seen news headlines advising that while performing an at-home test, you swab your throat before your nose.
A non-peer-reviewed study indicated that the omicron strain of COVID-19 may cause more virus to emerge in the bronchus, which helps get air into your lungs. As a result, several people assumed that a throat swab would disclose whether or not you had COVID-19 sooner. That report, however, is still being reviewed and should not be used as actual advice.
Furthermore, some at-home quick tests in the UK tell you to swab your throat and nose as part of the process. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the COVID-19 fast tests that are now approved under the EUA of the US Food and Drug Administration.
"You won't be able to do a throat swab," Dr. Rhoads explains, "since the FDA hasn't authorized any of the tests for that approach." "The FDA did not evaluate their performance in this manner. And that's not how they're supposed to be used."
More research is needed, according to Dr. Rhoads, before a throat swab might be utilized with at-home COVID-19 tests. "Someone has to conduct the research," he says. "Without that, you're not sure what the performance is right now." It's possible that you'll get false positives. It's possible that the test isn't as sensitive as it appears."
"We don't have any data yet suggesting throat swabs are an accurate or appropriate procedure for at-home tests," the US FDA agrees, and has said specifically, "We don't have any data suggesting throat swabs are an accurate or appropriate method for at-home tests."
A throat swab can, however, be used to determine whether you have COVID-19 in one place: your doctor's office.
Dr. Rhoads explains that "some of the tests we run in the lab are permitted for throat swabs." "It was confirmed by us." It was confirmed by businesses. For throat swabs, there are methods that have been verified. However, I'm not aware of any over-the-counter tests that may be done at home using that specimen type."
What to do with the Test results for COVID-19 at home
It can also be difficult to know what to do if you test positive for COVID-19. Isolating yourself from other members of your home to avoid infecting them is a good first step. You should also notify everyone you've been around recently so they can be tested (or quarantined) if necessary.
However, your initial instinct may be to repeat the test, either with another at-home test or by arranging a PCR test, just to make sure the results are accurate. There's nothing wrong with that, according to Dr. Rhoads, but it's not essential. "You can obtain a confirmatory test if you get a positive test," he explains. "However, I don't believe you need to retest." That isn't required."
Here's all you need to know about taking the COVID-19 test at home.
At the absolute least, Dr. Rhoads advises that you document the fact that you tested positive. You can self-report a positive diagnosis to public health departments in some cities or states. Some at-home testing come with an app that connects to your medical records. You can also use your cell phone to record the results.
"If the test result is positive, take a snapshot of it so it can be shared electronically if you require healthcare in the future," Dr. Rhoads suggests. "Outpatient prescriptions are sometimes depending on whether you've tested positive or not. It's beneficial for the person who wants to prescribe you medicine to view and confirm it with their own eyes. And I feel that an antigen test will suffice in demonstrating that you have COVID."
Above all, notify and maintain contact with your healthcare practitioner. For example, MyChart at Cleveland Clinic allows you to submit documents, such as a photo of your positive at-home test. Your doctor can be a fantastic resource and help you take the best next measures to get back on track to health, especially if you start to feel worse or are unsure if your test result was correct.