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Throat swab culture

Definition

A throat swab culture is a laboratory test done to isolate and identify organisms that may cause infection in the throat.

Alternative Names

Throat culture and sensitivity; Culture - throat

How the test is performed

You will be asked to tilt your head back and open your mouth wide. The health care provider rubs a sterile cotton swab along the back of your throat near the tonsils. You need to resist gagging and closing the mouth while the swab touches this area.

The health care provider may need to scrape the back of the throat with the swab several times. This helps improve the chances of detecting bacteria.

How to prepare for the test

Do not use antiseptic mouthwashes before the test.

How the test will feel

Your throat may be sore at the time the test is taken. You may experience a gagging sensation when the back of your throat is touched with the swab, but the test only lasts a few seconds.

Why the test is performed

The test is performed when a throat infection is suspected, particularly strep throat. A throat culture can also help your doctor determine which antibiotics will work best for you.

Normal Values

The presence of the usual mouth and throat bacteria is a normal finding.

What abnormal results mean

An abnormal result means bacteria or other organism is present. This is usually a sign of infection.

What the risks are

This test is safe and well-tolerated. In very few patients, the sensation of gagging may lead to an urge to vomit or cough.

References

Caserta MT, Flores AR. Pharyngitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 54.

Bisno AL, Stevens DL. Streptococcus pyogenes. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 198.


Review Date: 5/9/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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