Everyone in your household is coughing, sneezing, aching, and feeling downright under the weather. You automatically assume COVID-19, and head for your swab tests. But to your surprise, the results come back negative–leaving you with more questions than answers.

How to navigate a negative COVID-19 test result while suffering symptoms

Here, we walk you through false negatives, other possible causes of illness, and what to do next.

Is it possible to receive a negative test result when you actually have COVID?

As with all diagnostic testing, false negative test results are possible. The risk of a false negative depends on the timing and sensitivity of the COVID-19 diagnostic test.

Always follow CDC guidelines on when to get tested, and consider choosing a PCR test. Highly sensitive PCR tests are the most accurate testing option available and can reduce the risk of false negatives.

A rapid antigen test may not detect the virus in your system during early stages. If you have COVID-19, and get an antigen test too soon, your result could come back negative, even though you are infected. If you are experiencing symptoms, continue isolating away from others and talk to a doctor about follow up testing.

Consider other illnesses with similar symptoms

During the ongoing pandemic, it’s natural for the mind to jump right to COVID at the first sign of respiratory symptoms. But, there are plenty of other viruses and bacteria that can contribute to coughs, congestion, and fevers.

If you test negative for COVID-19, but still aren’t feeling well, talk to your doctor about the possibility of flu, RSV, adenovirus, allergies, and strep. You may need additional testing and treatment to heal. Remember to stay home when you’re sick, and to give your body plenty of rest and fluids.

If you’re unsure about a negative COVID-19 test result, visit our clinic for expert care and advice.