Nasal Swab Anxiety
June 24, 2020 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I am getting a nasal swab test for Covid today because of a possible exposure. It is a free test and I don't know what the qualifications are of the testers.

I have a lot of anxiety for all invasive tests like blood draws etc. I'm really really scared of this because it goes in so deep. What if I involuntarily move my head. What if they aren't gentle. Can it hurt your brain? Has anyone been badly injured by this Covid swab test? I don't trust anyone because sometimes even though I have "good veins" I've had a phlebotomist who did a bad job.
posted by Tim Bucktooth to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I just had one last week. Not going to lie it was super uncomfortable, but bearable. My eyes watered but I was able to keep my head still. More uncomfortable than painful. The swab goes very far up. The swab has to be up for ten full seconds.

I suggest taking a breath in just before and letting it out slowly during the swab if you can. It gave me something to focus on and the act of exhaling through the nose helped with my instinctual urge to "get this thing out of my nasal passage". If I had no breath at the start, I would definitely not want to inhale.

Maybe practice breathing out and breathing through your mouth?

Millions of people have had this test - if anyone had an injury I bet we would have heard about it by now.
posted by sol at 7:37 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I have a really hard time with the regular flu swab and strep swabs. And I'm a wiggler and I always involuntarily jerks backward. I just can't help it! The trick a nurse taught me was to have them do the test while I stand with my back and head against a wall so my head doesn't have anywhere to jerk away to.
posted by ilovewinter at 7:46 AM on June 24 [9 favorites]


Agreed that it was more uncomfortable than painful. Not painful at all, just yeah, not a place I've ever had prodded before. It activated my gag reflex so I just did like tiny little coughs for the few seconds it was up there. Eyes watered and afterwards my nose was a little runny. I was also super nervous as I have similar anxiety with anything invasive, but overall, I just kind of did what sol suggests, breathed slowly and just got through it. At this point the people who are administering tests are doing a ton of them, so they are able to do it safely.
posted by greta simone at 7:46 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Can it hurt your brain?

No. It's a soft swab and there's plenty of bone between where it goes and your brain.
posted by flabdablet at 7:50 AM on June 24 [14 favorites]


It's totally understandable to be anxious about it. But remind yourself that no, it's not going to do you any damage, just be really uncomfortable for a few seconds. It may feel like it's poking your brain, but it definitely isn't! In fact, as mentioned above, I'd be less anxious about getting one now than the one I got in December, because the person administering it now has SO much more practice! Good luck and remember to breathe. It'll be OK.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:57 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I had a nasal swab test recently and was also worried, given people have described it like poking your brain. The actual test was uncomfortable, but it did not feel dangerous - the swab felt nowhere near my brain, my eye sockets, etc. For me, it felt like the sensation of having to sneeze, and not being able to sneeze, except worse, and then they took the swab back out. My free test was administered by an EMT.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 8:10 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Do you know for sure if it's the deep swab test you're getting? My stepfather got tested a few weeks ago and the urgent care he was at did a version that was each nostril (not deep, just barely inside) and a regular throat swab so there are other possible test scenarios. Might be worth asking when you get to the test site what kind of test you're getting?
posted by macfly at 8:11 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I've been tested weekly for 14 weeks as a wonderful consequence of my lab work. It's nowhere near the horror I reserve for a throat swab. Also the techs/nurses collecting these samples have had lots and lots of practice now so they're quick, efficient, and extremely experienced. You've got nothing to fear.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:11 AM on June 24 [10 favorites]


I got a free test at a hospital drive-up site last week in MA and they swabbed both nostrils, not going into the bridge of my nose. It wasn’t a deep swab
posted by horizons at 8:19 AM on June 24


Oh - thanks to ilovewinter for the trick and that reminds me - my test was drive through and I was in a car - during the uncomfortable time I pressed my head backwards into the headrest behind me, it helped act on the impulse to jerk back without moving my head and messing up the test.
posted by sol at 8:41 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


My family was tested on Monday. We chose the drive-through option so that we would have and be of minimal exposure to others. We all have some degree of anxiety, and I forgot to take an Ativan, so I was feeling it a bit. We handed in our our paperwork at the first tent, and then listened to fun music while we waited in the line-up. We watched the nurses and technicians in their full PPE sanitize and maintain all of the best practices we've been reading about.

We were asked to wear our masks over our mouths, because we might cough a little. We were instructed to put our heads back against the seat and look straight ahead. She put the swab into my left nostril, and if I were to describe it, it felt a bit like when water gets way up your nose - but not anywhere near as bad as when you puke and a little bile burns your nasal passages. I held the steering wheel and counted to ten by squeezing each finger against it. I did cough a little, and my eyes watered.

It did not hurt - it was just really odd, and I sat there thinking "this is weird" and afterward there was a sensation that only lingered for a few moments. I didn't even swear in my head.

I liken it to when I was a kid and put a raisin waaay up my nose, then breathed in, and it got stuck beyond my finger's reach. I was afraid to tell my mom, and it was there for a few days. The moisture in my nose made it really really swell up, and I couldn't breathe well and finally confessed. When she tried to pull it out with regular tweezers, she was only able to take it out in chunks but my anxiety was also making it worse for her. So we went to the doctor, and he was able to get it all out with a longer, angled, round-edged tool in one smooth move, and afterward it was like my nasal passage was deliciously clear.

Our nurse said she does over 600 swabs a day, and if I was nervous she couldn't tell - that's probably more experience than my paediatrician had in pulling swollen raisins out of kindergarteners' nostrils.

Though the show the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is problematic, there is a sound bit of advice in there - the 10 Second Rule. So my advice is to take the test in three 10 second chunks - before, during and after - and you'll make it through!
posted by peagood at 8:48 AM on June 24 [8 favorites]


I, too, was in a car. I pushed the back of my head into the headrest and stomped out the ten seconds on the floorboard and the tester commented that I "had a good little rhythm going there." She also chose my right nostril because it "looks a little bigger." Which information I was not grateful for, having thought they were about the same. In conclusion, the tester was... kind of annoying, actually. But the test itself was no bigs and took just about ten minutes, total, counting driving through the paperwork obstacle course part, enduring the tester running commentary on my nostrils and rhythmic capabilities, and the ten-second test itself. I was way worried about it because of all the "brainswab" yack, but it was absolutely fine. They used one of those 3Dprinted hard plastic swabs, too, so mine was probably incrementally more uncomfortable than yours will be if they're using a cotton swab, and it was fine. A+++, would submit to this indignity again.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:58 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I've had three! One of them was the mid-nasal swab that isn't the brainstem kind, those aren't even uncomfortable. The first one was by an experienced tech and I agree that it didn't actually hurt during the experience, it ached for a bit afterwards but it was not as bad as e.g. a blood pressure test. The second one was I think a less experienced tester and that one did hurt, in sort of an "ah ow my sinuses" way-- and caused me no lasting damage and lasted no amount of time. So my point is, it's not like a blood draw-- even the worst case scenario is still basically fine!
posted by peppercorn at 9:20 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Slightly tangential. I haven't had the swab test but I had a cauterization of a blood vessel in my nose that was causing occasional profuse nose bleeds. It seemed like the doctor went up pretty far and of course there was the burning sensation, but it only lasted less than a minute (though I didn't time him). So my uninformed opinion would be that a 10 second deep probe would be comparable or better than that experience.
posted by forthright at 9:23 AM on June 24


This procedure is safe! It is not 'invasive' in the same sense as a blood draw, does not puncture your body in any way, nor is there risk of harming your brain or internal organs. The nurses and techs doing this are trained and efficient.

As mentioned above, it does feel very uncomfortable, but it is fast.
posted by latkes at 9:42 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Just did it this morning. Definitely super unpleasant, but for a short enough time that three or four big slow breaths will get you through it. I have not heard of any test related injuries and it doesn’t seem possible to me — the swab is a little thin soft thing, it’s just awful because having anything that far up your nose is awful.
posted by LizardBreath at 9:43 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I had the nasopharyngeal swab with a plastic swab (looked like a zip tie) and it was uncomfortable but mostly just EXTREMELY SURPRISING. I hadn't heard any of the "brain tickler" stories before I got it and nobody warned me what it was going to be like (including my husband and my therapist, both of whom had been tested recently! guys! you should have my back on this!). I heard "swab" and I thought that meant a q-tip in my nose. I suspect I'm not the only person who had this experience, which may be why there are so many horror stories.
posted by mskyle at 9:48 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


My partner got this done yesterday at a drive-thru location; he was told to swab his own nose (under the watchful eye of a professional). The professional's cues were to 'get the juiciest, shiniest swab'.

It seemed that it would be a lot easier if he was told to be well-hydrated going in.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:50 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Seconding to double check which test you're getting! Not sure where you're physically located, but I have been tested in DC (at a One Medical site) and it was the short swab test, which is no more "invasive" than sticking a q-tip not very far up your nose. It was done in about 30 seconds and not painful or uncomfortable or surprising at all. I know the long swab tests are a bit less fun, but what kind you're getting is really dependent on your location. Good luck!
posted by fancypants at 11:34 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I had a few bad experiences with shots and blood draws when I was younger (I passed out or went lightheaded afterwards). What's been really helpful for me: telling the person doing the draw that I'm stressed about it. I say something like, "Sometimes I get lightheaded and I'm a bit stressed right now." I have found that saying that does a few things: it helps them be aware of my stress, which makes them maybe more thoughtful about how they are approaching me; and it helps me be less stressed. So I recommend telling the person how you are feeling.

Now, they will be covered in masks and equipment so it will be hard to see their facial expression, but these are experienced folks who are doing this a lot right now, and I bet they will be able to read your stress before you say so. But you might find this prompts them to reassure you or keep up a chatter or otherwise behave in a way that makes an uncomfortable situation more manageable.

Good luck!
posted by bluedaisy at 12:10 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I had the short swab and a strep test at the same time. The strep test was far, far worse. I've had plenty of strep tests so the I knew what to expect. Like peagood said, it feels like water up your nose. If you can get the short swab, do.

I, too, do not like blood draws, etc. This is nothing like it.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 12:28 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I did a self short swab test yesterday, and it was unpleasant but not horrible. It feels like getting water up your nose. It's a soft, very flexible swab so the damage it can do is pretty limited. You got this!
posted by Sparky Buttons at 1:55 PM on June 24


In addition to the short swab, there are also now FDA-approved home saliva tests, developed at Rutgers. There's an initial cost (I think it's $150), but if you have insurance, it may be covered (ours was). Our son is going back to his therapeutic boarding school and has to be tested before and there's no way he would be able to sit still for a deep nasal swab test. You just spit in a tube at home like you're taking an Ancestry DNA test and pop it into a FedEx box. There are a few sellers. We got our test from Phosphorus and test results will be delivered by email in 72 hours.
posted by ceejaytee at 2:21 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I had one done recently and while I had been nervous, I found it about as bad as getting highly chlorinated water, like from a public pool, up my nose. Strep swabs are much worse for me. I told the healthcare workers I was feeling nervous about it and they were really kind. Closing my eyes tight helped.

Let your healthcare workers know you're nervous, take a deep breath, and you'll be okay for the test. Good luck!
posted by wiskunde at 2:44 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


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