Updated: 2022, Jul 16

Your Guide to COVID-19 At-Home Testing

Self-tests for COVID-19 give rapid results and can be taken anywhere, regardless of your vaccination status or whether or not you have symptoms.

Many at-home tests for COVID-19 sprang up in the past two years, but they test for the virus differently. If you don’t know the difference between a rapid antigen test and a molecular test for COVID-19. Read on to learn about each test type you might encounter.

Your Guide to COVID-19 At-Home Testing
Your Guide To Using At-Home Covid Tests. Image/Shutterstock

Shopping for At-home Tests

Developing cold-like symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic means you need to test for the disease. You might pick up a test kit from Avacare Medical, but you need to know the different types to use them correctly. When misused, the test can produce a false result – either negative or positive, but typically a false negative.

Molecular COVID-19 Tests

The molecular COVID-19 tests go by nucleic acid, PCR, or RNA tests. Some of these tests look for antibodies in the human body that fight the virus to identify if you previously developed the disease. It doesn’t tell you if you currently have COVID-19. The test may not accurately reveal whether you once had the virus because antibody levels vary by person. Most molecular tests require up to 24 hours for results.

RNA Test

Another, more specific molecular COVID-19 test is a swab of a mucus specimen acquired by swiping the interior of both nostrils for 15 seconds. When tested, the resulting specimen reveals the virus’s RNA, also known as nucleic acid, if the individual contracted the disease.

PCR COVID-19 Test

When watching crime shows on TV, you’ve probably come across the phrase PCR test. PCR stands for a polymerase chain reaction. A PCR test related to COVID-19 relates to testing the specimen for virus RNA. The test converts virus RNA in your sample into DNA, then makes millions of copies of that DNA. This makes it easy to detect. Even if your sample contains small increments of the virus, this test can find it.

Multiplex PCR Test

No, the virus didn’t go to the movies in this test. Instead, the multiplex test got its name because it can test for multiple diseases simultaneously. Also referred to as the Multiplex Assay PCR test, this efficient PCR test simultaneously checks for the presence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza type A and B, plus COVID-19.

Rapid Antigen Test

Most at-home tests use the antigen test method. These cost-effective tests offer a quick turnaround time on results. They also provide highly accurate. You’ll swab either your nostrils for mucus or your throat for saliva. A medical professional can offer these in their office, and you can purchase them for at-home testing. You get results in less than 20 minutes, typically.

In-Office Test – Antibody Test

Sometimes, your at-home test offers an odd result, or your doctor wants a second test. You may go to their office or a testing facility to undergo a serology test, also called a blood test. The blood sample shows if your body produced antibodies to fight COVID-19. The result tells you if you had the disease.

Molecular tests offer the most accurate results, but antigen tests process the fastest. While medical professionals refer to PCR tests as the gold standard, your at-home antigen test can accurately tell if you have COVID-19.

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