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