Throat Culture: About This Test

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What is it?

Picture of the throat and tonsils

A throat culture is a test to find a bacterial or fungal infection in the throat.

Why is this test done?

A throat culture may be done to:

  • Find the cause of a sore throat. Most sore throat infections are caused by a virus. A throat culture shows the difference between a bacterial infection and a viral infection.
  • Check a person who may not have any symptoms of infection but who carries bacteria that can spread to others. This person is called a carrier.

How can you prepare for the test?

You don't need to do anything before you have this test. Tell your doctor if you have recently taken any antibiotics.

What happens during the test?

  • You will be asked to tilt your head back and open your mouth as wide as possible.
  • Your doctor will press your tongue down with a flat stick (tongue depressor) and then examine your mouth and throat.
  • A clean cotton swab will be rubbed over the back of your throat, around your tonsils, and over any red areas or sores to collect a sample.

How long does the test take?

  • The test will take less than a minute.
  • Throat culture test results for bacterial infections are ready in 1 to 2 days, depending on which bacteria are being tested for. Test results for a fungus may take about 7 days.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new or higher fever
  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or severe headache.
  • You have new or worse trouble swallowing.
  • Your sore throat gets much worse on one side.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not start to feel better after 2 days (48 hours).
  • You do not get better as expected.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: February 19, 2016