What Is a Nasal Swab?

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  • Written By: Nicky Sutton
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 February 2019
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A nasal swab resembles a long cotton bud that is inserted into the nose to collect fluid or tissue. The swab is enclosed and transported in a sterile container to prevent contamination before testing. Nasal swabbing is performed by a trained health professional and performed when a patient is suspected of having, for example, a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. The swab is sent to a laboratory that tests the swab and provides the medical professional with a diagnosis.

When a medical professional performs a nasal swab, they insert a polyester swab into the nose to collect mucus or skin cells. The swab itself resembles a long cotton bud. It is removed from an airtight container, used to perform the swab test and then resealed in the sterile container again for transport. This action is performed immediately and without interruption, to prevent the swab from becoming contaminated.

The healthcare professional should have received appropriate training on performing nasal swabs. Specimens are taken from the nose under clinical conditions and sent to a laboratory for diagnosis. Usually specimens are examined under a microscope to identify the type of organisms present. The results will indicate to the health professional which course of treatment to provide to the patient.


A nasal swab is taken to investigate the potential presence of a bacterial culture, fungal infection, antigens, antibodies or virus. Tissue or fluid collected from the nose is often representative of infections present throughout the body and can be used as an alternative to a blood test. Often both nostrils are sampled, each with a different swab, in order to validate results.

Correct documentation is written up before a nasal swab is performed. The completed swab must be identifiable to the correct patient at all times to avoid misdiagnosis. Information such as the date the specimen was collected, the patient’s name and any medication already administered is documented and sent to the laboratory along with the swab. Swabbing procedures should be explained to the patient and their consent obtained, before the swab is taken.

The medical professional washes their hands and puts on gloves. Performing the procedure involves gently pushing the swab up into the tip of the nose. It is often left for a few seconds to absorb fluid and twisted to obtain tissues. Investigating different types of infection may require variations in procedure such as the location within the nose from which the sample is taken. Results usually take under a week to return to the health practitioner depending on location and the health service in use.


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