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How to Get a Non-Invasive COVID Test for Kids

Brain-tickling nose swabs make testing kids a nightmare. Here are your alternatives.

As COVID-19 cases increase and schools start to reopen, children are going to have more and more coronavirus scares. That means they’re going to need to get tested more often. And with how invasive testing is, your kid is sure to put up a fight — or shed some tears. Most COVID-19 tests are done with nasopharyngeal swabs that go deep into the nose and are incredibly uncomfortable. Some people describe the tests as tickling or even stabbing their brain. But there are kid-friendly options to test for the coronavirus that are faster, cheaper, and a hell of a lot more bearable.

Saliva Tests for COVID-19

In the early days of the pandemic, some experts were skeptical of looking for coronavirus in saliva samples. But this testing method is becoming more and more popular. Spitting into a test tube is more pleasant than getting swabbed in the back of the nose, and recent studies suggest it may be as accurate.

When getting a spit test for COVID-19, don’t eat, drink, or smoke for at least a half hour before your test. You will be asked to spit and drool between one and five milliliters of saliva into a small test tube, which can take up to 12 minutes. The sample is then shipped off to a lab and analyzed for the coronavirus. The time it takes before you get a result depends on the testing location or company you use.

Although tens of thousands of U.S. residents get their saliva tested for the coronavirus each day, that’s still only a small fraction of daily tests. Spit tests aren’t offered at all testing facilities, and it will be easier to get one in some states than others. If you live in Minnesota, for example, saliva tests are free and available to everyone. But if there aren’t options available in your area, you can get one delivered to your home from this list of at-home tests compiled by Fatherly.

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The problem with saliva tests is that not all experts are convinced they’re reliable for diagnosing COVID-19. A recent study of 70 COVID-19 inpatients found that saliva tests detected more viral RNA than nasopharyngeal swabs. The saliva tests also identified two more cases than swabs in 13 asymptomatic health care workers. But other research has found that saliva tests miss more cases. “Some studies show that saliva is less reliable than nasopharyngeal swabs, and some studies show that saliva is better,” Michael Mina, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told Time. “The jury is still out on the real role of saliva tests. But what we do know, is that there is potential for it. It can be a very powerful tool.”

Nasal and Throat Swabs for COVID-19

Not all swabs go as far back into the nose as the standard nasopharyngeal swab. Newer tests use a nasal swab that goes inside the nostrils but not as far so it doesn’t feel like it’s scraping your brain. These nasal tests are usually given in conjunction with oral swabs of the throat, so they aren’t completely free of discomfort, but there’s much less internet outcry about this kind of test compared to the nasopharyngeal swab.

During the test, a healthcare worker first presses down the tongue while swabbing the throat next to and behind the tonsils. They then sample each nostril using the same swab. Some testing locations may forego the throat swab and use the nasal swab only, though this technique could be less sensitive. There are also at-home options, such as the nasal coronavirus test by Let’s Get Checked.

Like the saliva test, it is likely that the nasal/throat test is less sensitive than the deep nose test, but many experts consider it to be an acceptable alternative. Some researchers recommended that it be used primarily to test people who are not hospitalized with Covid-19, particularly those who are symptomatic.