URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/nasal-swab/

Nasal Swab

What is a nasal swab?

A nasal swab, is a test that checks for viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory infections. 

There are many types of respiratory infections. A nasal swab test can help your provider diagnose the type of infection you have and which treatment would be best for you. The test may be done by taking a sample of cells from your nostrils or from the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is the uppermost part of your nose and throat.

Other names: anterior nares test, nasal mid-turbinate swab, NMT swab nasopharyngeal culture, nasopharyngeal swab 

What is it used for?

A nasal swab is used to diagnose certain infections of the respiratory system. These include:

  • The flu
  • COVID-19
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This is a common and usually mild respiratory infection. But it can be dangerous to young babies and older adults.
  • Whooping cough, a bacterial infection that causes severe fits of coughing and trouble breathing
  • Meningitis, a disease caused by inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord
  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a serious type of bacterial infection that can be very difficult to treat

Why do I need a nasal swab?

You may need this test if you have symptoms of a respiratory infection. These include:

What happens during a nasal swab?

A nasal swab may taken from the:

  • Front part of your nostrils (anterior nares)
  • Back of your nostrils, in a procedure known as nasal mid-turbinate (NMT) swab. 
  • Nasopharynx (uppermost part of your nose and throat)

In some cases, a health care provider will ask you to do an anterior nares test or an NMT swab yourself. 

During an anterior nares test, you will start by tilting your head back. Then you or the provider will:

  • Gently insert a swab inside your nostril.
  • Rotate the swab and leave it in place for 10-15 seconds.

·Remove the swab and insert into your second nostril.

  • Swab the second nostril using the same technique.
  • Remove the swab.

If you are doing the test yourself, the provider will let you know how to seal your sample.

During an NMT swab, you will start by tilting your head back. Then you or your provider will:

  • Gently insert a swab onto the bottom of the nostril, pushing it until you feel it stopping.
  • Rotate the swab for 15 seconds.
  • Remove the swab and insert into your second nostril.
  • Swab the second nostril using the same technique.
  • Remove the swab.

If you are doing the test yourself, the provider will let you know how to seal your sample.

During a nasopharyngeal swab: 

  • You will tip your head back.
  • Your health care provider will insert a swab into your nostril until it reaches your nasopharynx (the upper part of your throat).
  • Your provider will rotate the swab and remove it.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don't need any special preparations for a nasal swab.

Are there any risks to the test?

The test may tickle your throat or cause you to cough. A nasopharyngeal swab may be uncomfortable and cause coughing or gagging. All these effects are temporary.

What do the results mean?

Depending on your symptoms, you may have been tested for one or more types of infections.

A negative result means no harmful viruses or bacteria were found in your sample.

A positive result means a specific type of harmful virus or bacteria was found in your sample. It indicates you have a specific type of infection. If you are diagnosed with an infection, be sure to follow your provider's recommendations for treating your illness. This may include medicines and steps to prevent spreading the infection to others.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, be sure to stay in touch with your provider to find out the best way to take care of yourself and protect others from infection. To learn more, check the websites of the CDC and your local health department.

Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.

References

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.