Nasopharyngeal Culture

What Is a Nasopharyngeal Culture?

A nasopharyngeal culture is a quick, painless test which examines upper respiratory infections. These are infections that lead to symptoms such as a cough or a runny nose. The test can be performed in your doctor’s office.

A culture is a method of recognizing infectious organisms by allowing them to grow in a laboratory. This test recognizes disease causing microbes live in the secretions at the back of your nose and upper throat.

For performing this test, your secretions are collectects with the help of 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 grow or multiply. This makes them easier to detect.

Results from this test are usually available within 48 hours. They can help your doctor effectively treat your symptoms.

This test is also referred to as a following names:

  • nasopharyngeal or nasal aspiration
  • nasopharyngeal or nasal swab
  • nose swab

What Is the Purpose of a Nasopharyngeal Culture?

Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can all lead to upper respiratory disease. Doctors use this test to determine what type of organism is leading to upper respiratory symptoms like:

  • chest congestion
  • chronic cough
  • runny nose

It’s essential to find out the cause of these symptoms before starting a treatment. Some treatments are only effective for certain types of infection. Infections that can be identified using these cultures are following:

  • influenza
  • respiratory syncytial virus
  • Bordetella pertussis infection(whooping cough)
  • Staphylococcus aureus infections of the nose and throat

The results of a culture can also alert your doctor to uncommon or potentially fatal complications. For example, they can be used to recognize antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

How Is a Nasopharyngeal Culture Obtained?

Your doctor can perform this test in their clinic. There is no preparation needed. If your doctor agrees, you can come back to your regular activities afterward.

When you arrive, your doctor will ask you to sit or lie down comfortable position. You’ll be asked to cough to produce secretions. Then you’ll require to tilt your head back to about a 70-degree angle. Your doctor may recommend 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 turn round 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 normal suction will be applied to the tube. Normally, people find suction more comfortable than a swab.

Discomfort and irritation can be felt in the nose or a little bit bleeding can occur in nose after this test. A low-cost humidifier may relieve these symptoms.

What Do the Results Mean?

Your doctor should have the test results in one or two days.

Normal Results

A normal or negative test shows there are no disease-causing organisms.

Positive Results

A positive result means the organism causing your symptoms has been detected. Knowing what’s leading to your symptoms can help your doctor choose the treatment.

Treating Upper Respiratory Infections

Treatment for an upper respiratory disease depends on the type of organism causing it.

Bacterial Infections

Infections due to bacteria are generally treated with antibiotics.

If you’re infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, you may be hospitalized. You would be placed in a separate 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 often treated with intravenous (IV) vancomycin.

If you have MRSA, your family should be careful to prevent it from spreading. They should wash their hands repeatedly. Gloves should be worn when touching soiled clothes or tissues.

Fungal Infections

A fungal infection may be treated with antifungal drugs such as IV amphotericin B. Oral antifungal medications include fluconazole and ketoconazole.

In very few cases, a fungal infection will severely damage part of your lung. Your doctor may require to remove the damaged area surgically.

Viral Infections

Viral infections don’t respond to treatment with antibiotics or antifungal medications.They often last a week or two and then subside on their own. Doctors usually prescribe comfort measures like:

  • cough syrups for continuous coughing
  • decongestants for a stuffy nose
  • medications to lower a high temperature

Don’t take antibiotics for viral infections. An antibiotic won’t treat a viral infection, and taking it can make future bacterial infections harder to treat.


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