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COVID nasal swabs: A doctor explains the uncomfortable sensation and how to get relief

As uncomfortable as it may be, the tingling sensation in your nose after a nasal swab for coronavirus is not uncommon.

COVID nasal swabs: A doctor explains the uncomfortable sensation and how to get relief

"And then it just kept on going!"

COVID nasal swabs: A doctor explains the uncomfortable sensation and how to get relief

Many of us will have already exchanged horror stories about the shock of just how deep that first coronavirus swab test went up the nose.

The nasal swabs used in tests for SARS-CoV-2 often leave us teary-eyed and struggling with a constant urge to sneeze.

As uncomfortable as it may be, a tingling sensation in your nose afterwards is not uncommon, as the swab will have likely left small, superficial lesions in your nose.

“This leads to a foreign body sensation in the nose and that can lead to the sneezing irritation,” explains ENT specialist Bernhard Junge-Huelsing. Cold and dry winter air can only make this effect more intense, the doctor based in Germany says.

If this side-effect bothers you, you can alleviate it with a bit of nasal ointment – just don’t rub it in with a swab, which may only irritate things even more. Instead, rub the ointment against the nasal entrance and inhale it upwards – just like you might with snuff, the ENT specialist says.

You may have also left the testing centre with a nosebleed, especially if the swab was pushed in the direction of your nasal septum.

The mucous membranes there are particularly sensitive and well supplied with blood. Accordingly, even slight injuries can cause bleeding.

However, they often stop after a few minutes if you squeeze the front of your nose so that the blood clots. “Decongestant nasal sprays can also help because they cause the vessels to contract,” says Junge-Huelsing.

If the bleeding does not stop even after a few hours, you should go to an ENT doctor, as a larger blood vessel may have been damaged, and this may have to be treated.

More serious injuries caused by the swab, for example at the base of the skull, are theoretically possible, but very, very rare, says Junge-Huelsing.

How the swab is carried out is very important, the ENT expert says. “The technique used to take the swab is often miserable,” the ENT specialist complains.

For example, the swab should never be inserted straight upwards towards the bridge of your nose. Instead, the tester should be pushing it straight back towards the base of your nose, around the same height as where your auditory canal is. They should also be doing this extremely carefully.

You have to go about 6 centimetres into the nose to reach the nasopharynx, says the doctor: “That’s where the virus concentration is highest.”

Although nasal swabs are standard for coronavirus tests in many countries, swabs taken through the mouth are also possible. In terms of sensitivity, they are comparable or slightly lower, but most people find them more comfortable than nasal swabs.

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