A throat culture is a diagnostic test which is performed to determine if a patient has an infectious agent in his or her throat and, if so, what is responsible for the infection. Throat cultures are performed if a doctor suspects that someone is a carrier for a disease, or if a doctor wants to find out more about the cause of someone's sore throat. Collecting a sample for culture is a rapid and painless process, although some patients find it uncomfortable.
Doctors recommend that their patients refrain from using an antiseptic mouthwash before a throat culture, as this can interfere with the results. If the patient is taking antibiotics, it's important to let the doctor know. To collect a sample for culture, the doctor swabs the throat quickly. Many patients experience a gag reflex or want to close their mouths while the swab is applied; it can help to focus on a distant object in the room as a distraction while the doctor swabs.
If a doctor suspects that a sore throat may be caused by streptococcus infection, she or he may use a quick test, which takes around 10 minutes. In this case, the swab is dipped into the quick test kit and it checks rapidly for streptococcus bacteria. If the throat culture comes up positive, medications can be given right away. If it is negative, a culture will need to be done in a lab, with the swab being cultivated to see if any bacteria, fungi, or other organisms are present.
Throat cultures can be very useful when a doctor is preparing a prescription. With a culture, a doctor can decide which medication would be most effective for treatment, ensuring that the patient gets the right medication from the start. Cultures can also be useful for identifying carriers, who can then be treated to eliminate the infectious agent so that they will stop passing it on to other people.
Another common infectious agent identified with a throat culture is Candida albicans, which may colonize the mouth and throat. Infection with this fungus is sometimes known as “oral thrush” and it is often characterized by white streaks in the mouth which can be identified even without a culture.
A throat infection can be painful and irritating. It can also be dangerous, as there is a potential for the infection to spread. This makes it important to get treatment, especially if a patient will be around people with compromised immune systems, because the patient could pass the infection on to someone who is not equipped to deal with it. An individual with a compromised immune system who develops a sore throat should get a throat culture quickly to determine the cause so that treatment can be started.