At-home antigen tests for COVID-19 involve taking a sample from your nostril with a cotton swab. The test kit includes a device that can rapidly analyze this test sample.
In addition to at-home tests, rapid antigen tests can be done in a doctor’s office, pharmacy, health clinic, or other medical settings. Antigen tests can also be done by sending a sample to a laboratory for analysis.
It is useful to consider the relative benefits and downsides of antigen testing done at home compared to testing in a medical office or laboratory.
The main potential benefits of at-home COVID-19 antigen testing include:
- Convenience: An at-home test provides you with the flexibility to take the test when your schedule allows and without having to leave the comfort of home.
- Rapid results: Test kits are designed to quickly analyze your sample, offering results within 15-30 minutes. This rapid result is especially important if the test is being taken for screening since it lets you immediately begin isolation if you test positive.
- Prescription and over-the-counter options: There are at-home antigen tests that are only available with a prescription and others that can be purchased over-the-counter.
Possible downsides of at-home antigen testing include:
- Possible sample contamination: Medical offices have established protocols to help properly take a test sample. When you use an at-home test, you have to take your own sample, which requires carefully following the provided instructions to reduce the chances of sample contamination.
- Costs may not be covered by insurance: If you choose to take an over-the-counter antigen test, you will have to pay the full cost yourself. Prescription at-home antigen tests may be covered by insurance, but you should check with your health care plan about any costs that you would be responsible for.
- Need for follow-up tests: The results of antigen tests often need confirmation with a molecular test like a PCR, especially if your test result is positive.
If you are interested in testing for COVID-19, you can talk with your physician about how these benefits and downsides of at-home testing apply in your situation.