A throat culture or strep test is performed by using a throat swab to detect the
presence of group A streptococcus bacteria, the most common cause of strep
throat. These bacteria also can cause other infections, including scarlet fever, abscesses,
A sample swabbed from the back of the throat is put on a special plate (culture)
that enables bacteria to grow in the lab. The specific type of infection is determined
using chemical tests. If bacteria don't grow, the culture is negative and the person
doesn't have a strep throat infection.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that affects the back of the throat and the
tonsils, which become irritated and swell, causing a sore throat that's especially
painful when swallowing. White or yellow spots or a coating on the throat and tonsils
also might be present, and the lymph nodes along the sides of the neck may swell.
Strep throat is most common among school-age children. The infection may cause
headaches, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, and listlessness. Strep throat infections
don't usually include cold symptoms (such as sneezing, coughing, or a runny or stuffy
While symptoms of strep throat can go away within a few days without direct treatment,
doctors will prescribe antibiotics to help prevent related complications that can
be serious, such as rheumatic fever. Taking antibiotics reduces the length of time
a person is contagious.
Why It's Done
The throat culture test can help find the cause of a sore throat. Often, a sore
throat is caused by a virus, but a throat culture will see if it's definitely caused
by strep bacteria, helping doctors decide on the proper treatment.
Encourage your child to stay still during the procedure. Be sure to tell the doctor
if your child has taken any antibiotics recently, and try to have your child avoid
antiseptic mouthwash before the test as this could affect test results.
A health professional will ask your child to tilt his or her head back and open
his or her mouth as wide as possible. If the back of the throat cannot be seen clearly,
the tongue will be pressed down with a flat stick (tongue depressor) to provide a
better view. A clean, soft cotton swab will be lightly brushed over the back of the
throat, over the tonsils, and over any red or sore areas to collect a sample.
You may wish to hold your child on your lap during the procedure to prevent movement
that could make it difficult for the health professional to obtain an adequate sample.
What to Expect
Your child may have some gagging when the swab touches the back of the throat.
If your child's throat is sore, the swabbing may cause brief discomfort.
Getting the Results
Throat culture test results are generally ready in 2 days.
Throat swabbing can be uncomfortable, but no risks are associated with a throat
Helping Your Child
Explaining the test in terms your child can understand might help ease any fear.
During the test, encourage your child to relax and stay still so the health professional
can adequately swab the throat and tonsils.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the throat culture strep test, speak with your doctor.