Although Covid-19 positivity all around the world might have decreased to a great extent, yet a sudden high temperature or sore throat might make anyone go haywire in today’s times. Since the SARS-COV-2 is extremely contagious, people get more worked up and don’t realise that the sudden soreness in the throat, sneezes or fever can also happen due to seasonal changes or even some kind of bacterial infection. Well, in such situations, if the soreness of the throat does not subside on its own, the doctor usually does a throat culture to deduce the infectious condition.
Patient undergoing throat culture test

What Is Throat Culture?

A Throat culture, also known as Throat swab, is a laboratory test that is chiefly conducted to diagnose the presence of microorganisms in the back of the mouth that are probably making one sick. These microorganisms can be both viral or bacterial causing infections like strep throat, whooping cough, pneumonia, tonsillitis, and meningitis.

For example, the presence of group A streptococcus bacteria (Streptococcus pyogenes) in the throat swab is a key sign that one might be suffering from strep throat.

Also Read: Strep Throat: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

What Is The Purpose Of Throat Culture?

A throat swab culture is mainly suggested by the doctor if the patient reports of a sore throat and they think something other than a virus is to blame. While in most cases, a sore throat goes away on its own, without prescribed medications, but in some cases, it might persist suggesting a strep throat or other infectious conditions. The sore throat in this case is usually accompanied with other symptoms like redness, swelling, coating on the throat, tonsils and white streaks or pus on the tonsils as well as red spots in the roof of the mouth. Since the symptoms don’t indicate correctly about the causative organism, the doctor primarily conducts a throat swab to identify the infection at the earliest to avoid further spread of the infection onto others.

A throat culture test usually diagnoses the following infections:

  • Strep throat
  • Gonorrhea (gonococcal pharyngitis)
  • Thrush
  • Scarlet and rheumatic fever
  • Pertussis
  • Diphtheria
  • Scarlet Fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Abscess

On correct diagnosis, a throat culture test also helps to determine the doctor the type of antibiotic treatment plan to be formulated to help manage the infection better.

How Is A Throat Culture Test Performed?

The doctor usually asks the patient to sit straight, open the mouth widely and tilt the head back. In some case, the doctor may use a tongue depressor for a better view of the back of the mouth. The doctor then rubs a sterile cotton swab attached to a clean stick across the back of the throat, the tonsils, and any other sore areas for a few seconds. This swab chiefly collects a sample of the secretions being produced in the back of the throat. The sample is then placed in a germ-free container and sent to a lab for testing.

In the next phase inside the lab, this swab is put on a plate and the bacteria is allowed to grow. This process of growing the bacteria in the sample is called 'culture'. The cultured sample is then subjected to chemical tests in order to determine if there are any harmful microorganisms, and the particular type of microorganism present. Since culturing the microorganism usually takes a couple of days, one has to wait for some time to receive the results.

What Are The Side-Effects Of A Throat Culture Test?

Although there are no reported side effects or complications of a throat culture test, one may feel a little uncomfortable or feel the urge to cough or vomit due to the gagging since the back of the throat is a sensitive area, but it is usually painless and lasts only for a couple of seconds.

Also Read: Sore Throat: Know The Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

How To Interpret The Results?

The throat culture results usually take a few days to come in depending upon the growth of the microorganism.

If the throat culture test comes back negative, it usually indicates the absence of any infectious bacteria in the throat.

A positive result on the other hand indicates, the presence of a microorganism or the presence of streptococci (in case of strep throat) or other bacteria or virus.

Once the doctor identifies the causative organism that has led to sore throat, the doctor then chalks out a treatment plan for the patient to mitigate the infection.