Is a Nasopharyngeal Culture?
culture is a quick, painless test used to diagnose upper
respiratory infections. These are infections that cause symptoms like a cough
or a runny nose. The test can be completed in your doctor’s office.
A culture is
a way of identifying infectious organisms by allowing them to grow in a
laboratory. This test identifies disease-causing organisms that live in the
secretions at the back of your nose and throat.
For this test, your secretions are collected using a swab. They
may also be suctioned out using an aspirator. Any bacteria, fungi, or viruses present
in the sample are given a chance to multiply. This makes them easier to detect.
Results from this test are generally available within 48 hours.
They can help your doctor effectively treat your symptoms.
You may also hear this test referred to as a:
- nasopharyngeal or nasal aspiration
- nasopharyngeal or nasal swab
- nose swab
Is the Purpose of a Nasopharyngeal Culture?
Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can all cause upper respiratory
disease. Doctors use this test to find out what type of organism is causing
upper respiratory symptoms like:
- chest congestion
- chronic cough
- runny nose
It’s important to figure out the cause of these symptoms before
treating them. Some treatments are only effective for certain types of
infection. Infections that can be identified using these cultures include:
- respiratory syncytial virus
pertussis infection (whooping
- Staphylococcus aureus infections of
the nose and throat
The results of a culture can also alert your doctor to unusual or
potentially life-threatening complications. For example, they can be used to
identify antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, like
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Is a Nasopharyngeal Culture Obtained?
Your doctor can perform this test in their office. There is no
preparation required. If your doctor agrees, you can return to your normal
When you arrive, your doctor will ask you to sit or lie down
comfortably. You’ll be asked to cough to produce secretions. Then you’ll need
to tilt your head back to about a 70-degree angle. Your doctor may suggest that
you rest your head against a wall or a pillow.
The doctor will gently insert a small swab with a soft tip into
your nostril. They’ll guide it to the back of the nose and twirl it a few times
to collect secretions. This may be repeated in the other nostril. You may gag a
little. You may also feel some pressure or discomfort.
If a suction device is being used, the doctor will insert a small
tube into your nostril. Then, a gentle suction will be applied to the tube. In
general, people find suction more comfortable than a swab.
Your nose may feel irritated or bleed a little bit after the
procedure. A low-cost humidifier may ease these symptoms.
Do the Results Mean?
Your doctor should have the test results in a day or two.
A normal or negative test shows no disease-causing organisms.
A positive result means the organism causing your symptoms has
been identified. Knowing what’s causing your symptoms can help your doctor choose
Upper Respiratory Infections
Treatment for an upper respiratory disease depends on the
organism causing it.
Infections due to bacteria are usually treated with antibiotics.
If you’re infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, you may be
hospitalized. You would be placed in a private room or a room with other
patients with the same infection. Then, very strong antibiotics would be used
until your infection was under control. For example, MRSA is usually treated
with intravenous (IV) vancomycin.
If you have MRSA, your family should be careful to prevent it
from spreading. They should wash their hands frequently. Gloves should be worn
when touching soiled garments or tissues.
A fungal infection may be treated with antifungal medications
such as IV amphotericin B. Oral antifungal medications include fluconazole
In rare cases, a fungal infection will seriously damage part of
your lung. Your doctor may need to remove the damaged area surgically.
Viral infections don’t respond to treatment with antibiotics or
antifungals. They usually last a week or two and then disappear on their own.
Doctors generally prescribe comfort measures like:
- cough syrups for persistent coughing
- decongestants for a stuffy nose
- medications to reduce a high temperature
Avoid taking antibiotics for viral infections. An antibiotic
won’t treat a viral infection, and taking it can make future bacterial
infections more difficult to treat.