After more than a year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us know the cardinal symptoms of the virus by heart. But what do you do when you might be sick with mild symptoms, but you aren’t sure? Particularly for people who have been vaccinated but may have been exposed to the virus, mild symptoms can change the way you seek treatment. At Text2MD, we know that home tests for COVID-19 may be a good first step for people who are exhibiting early signs of infection.
Can I Conduct a Home Test for COVID-19?
Yes, there are now a few self-tests you can complete at home to screen yourself for COVID-19. While these tests are not free like the ones you may receive at your local testing center, home tests are convenient alternatives to help you confirm early symptoms. Doing tests at home can be a faster, more convenient way to be proactive about your health. But before you conduct one of these self-tests, you may want to consider telemedicine.
Online Medical Consultation
Over the past year, physicians have seen countless patients through online medical consultations. Telemedicine can speed up your overall treatment by allowing you to discuss your symptoms with a doctor to see if you need a physical examination. A consultation will go over your symptoms, how long you’ve had them, and any possible risks of COVID-19 exposure, such as being in a crowded indoor area.
If your telemedicine consultation concludes that you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, your doctor may advise you to complete a self-collection kit or go to a testing center to confirm your diagnosis. Your doctor may also recommend that you stay home and only seek immediate medical attention if you have warning sign symptoms, such as trouble breathing. You may even be advised how you can manage symptoms at home, such as staying hydrated.
Self-tests or self-collection kits are sold at drug stores and pharmacies; some kits are available by prescription. A self-test can be completed anywhere but is usually completed at home for your convenience. In general, you can get the results of a self-collection kit much more quickly than traditional testing from an official COVID-19 testing center.
Testing kits are designed to detect current or active COVID-19 infections. For this reason, it’s best to use these kits when you have active symptoms, like fever, chills, and shortness of breath. Self-test kits will not detect COVID-19 infections that are in the early stages of viral shedding, so using a kit before you are symptomatic will not produce accurate results.
Will You Need to Confirm Your Home Test for COVID-19?
In some cases, you will need to confirm your home test for COVID-19. For example, if your test is negative but you are symptomatic, then you may need to complete a different test at a COVID-19 testing center. If your test is positive and you need treatment, your doctor may also ask you to complete another test before your treatment starts so you can receive the best care.
How Does a Home Test for COVID-19 Work?
In general, self-collection kits use either nasal specimens or saliva specimens to detect the virus in your body. For an at-home kit, the manufacturer will have detailed instructions on how to use the test to collect samples that can be used to produce accurate results. With a nasal test, a swab will be taken in the back of your nose to collect viral shedding; for a saliva test, a sample of your saliva placed into the kit will be used to detect active viral infection.
Even though you are using an at-home kit, you need to prepare for your specimen collection correctly. Do your best to keep all materials sterile so you can have accurate results.
You will need to wash your hands with soap before you open the kit and collect your specimen. Be sure to follow the specimen directions closely. Depending on the type of self-testing kit you use, after your specimen is collected you will either send the sample to a testing facility or follow additional directions to complete the test.
Self-collection kits are designed to be easy to follow. Depending on the type of specimen you are collecting, you may need to use special tools (such as a swab) to collect your specimen. Some people who complete home tests prefer to have other residents in the home help them complete the test, particularly for a nasal swab.
Be sure you do not open the kit until you are ready for the test so you do not contaminate any tools used for the kit. If your self-collection kit will produce results at home, then you will need to record your test results according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The timing of recording your results is very important, since results recorded too quickly may not be accurate.
After you have recorded the results of your self-test, you will need to take some safety precautions, even if your results were negative. Discard the entire testing kit, including the collection swab or other tools that may have been exposed to the virus. Then clean all surfaces in the area you completed your test so viral particles will not linger. Finally, wash your hands with soap and water to prevent viral spread.
You will need to report your results to your healthcare provider or local health department, regardless of whether your results are positive or negative. If your results are positive, reporting your results will help you get the treatment you may need or direct you to other relevant resources. Depending on the test you use, there may be an app to automatically report your results to the correct public health department, either for your local area or your state.
What If Your Results Are Negative?
If your results are negative, then this means that the self-collection kit was unable to find any active virus in your specimen. If you followed the directions of your kit closely and took your specimen when you were experiencing symptoms, then your negative result is likely accurate. However, false negatives are common in any testing kit; even tests that are done at testing centers.
If you have a negative result but you are experiencing symptoms that align more closely with COVID-19 than other illnesses (such as a common cold, bronchitis, or allergies), then you may have a false negative. If your symptoms are particularly bad, then you should arrange for testing at a testing facility.
When You Should Test Again After a Negative Result?
Sometimes, a negative test result occurs when you have taken your self-test too early. For example, if you believe you were in contact with someone who had COVID-19 but you do not have any current symptoms, taking a test may not produce any results since the virus is not active in your body yet.
You should take another test after a negative result if new symptoms show up or your symptoms worsen. This may indicate that the virus is more active in your body, which means any self-collection kits may be more accurate. Some kits are sold as serial kits, which contain several tests that you can take every few days to detect COVID-19 infections more accurately.
What If Your Results Are Invalid or Have an Error?
As with any test, there is a possibility that your self-collection kit may produce an invalid result. If you have inconclusive results, then you have two options; the first is to complete another home test, and the second is to arrange for testing at a testing center or with your doctor.
Inconclusive results can happen for several reasons, such as an inaccurate sample. A flawed testing instrument or other errors in the kit may also lead to inconclusive tests. Similar to the procedure for false negatives, testing again when you have more pronounced symptoms is a good idea after an inconclusive result. You should always speak with your doctor after you complete your kit and obtain your test result.
Are Home Tests Reliable?
Yes, home tests for COVID-19 are generally reliable for detecting positive cases. Self-collection kits are designed to detect active viral particles at the height of the infectious stage, so these tests will be most accurate when you have several symptoms. That said, if you have mild symptoms and you have been exposed to COVID-19, it may be a good idea to arrange a PCR test with a testing facility or your healthcare provider since these tests are more accurate the self-tests.
When Should You Be Tested for COVID-19?
The ideal time to be tested for COVID-19 is when you have one or more of the symptoms associated with the virus. It’s definitely a good idea to be tested if you know you have come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus, or if you have been in an environment where the virus easily spreads, even if people were wearing masks.
Emergency Warning Signs
While the most common symptoms include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms, there are also emergency warning signs you should watch out for. These emergency warning signs are severe symptoms that may be life-threatening if left untreated, so if you or someone in your home is experiencing these symptoms, they should seek medical attention as soon as possible. These warning signs include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Inability to stay awake
- Pale, grey, or blue skin, lips, and nail beds
What Treatments Are Available?
Doctors around the world are still exploring treatment options for COVID-19. For people who have severe symptoms, treatment at a hospital may be necessary. Depending on your condition, you may be given different medications to manage the symptoms of the virus, a portable oxygen tank to help with your breathing, or even recommendations for over-the-counter medications you can take to help you manage your condition.
To date, there is only one drug therapy approved by the FDA for the treatment of COVID-19. Several other therapies are in clinical trials to determine whether or not they are effective treatments for the virus.
Be Proactive About Your Health
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of taking charge of our health. Being proactive about your health is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19 in your area. Simple steps, such as completing self-collection kits and seeking medical attention with telemedicine consultations, can help you access the resources you need to stay healthy. Please contact Text2MD to schedule your telemedicine consultation today.