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Throat swab culture

A throat swab culture is a laboratory test that is done to identify germs that may cause infection in the throat. It is most often used to diagnose strep throat.

How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to tilt your head back and open your mouth wide. The health care provider will rub a sterile cotton swab along the back of your throat near the tonsils. You will need to resist gagging and closing your mouth while the swab touches this area.

The health care provider may need to scrape the back of your throat with the swab several times. This helps improve the chances of detecting bacteria.

How to Prepare for the Test

Do not use antiseptic mouthwash before this test.

How the Test will Feel

Your throat may be sore when this test is done. You may feel like gagging when the back of your throat is touched with the swab, but the test only lasts a few seconds.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is performed when a throat infection is suspected, particularly strep throat. A throat culture can also help your health care provider determine which antibiotic will work best for you.

Normal Results

A normal or negative result means no bacteria or other germs that may cause a sore throat were found.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal or positive result means bacteria or other germs that can cause a sore throat were seen on the throat swab.


This test is safe and easy to tolerate. In very few people, the sensation of gagging may lead to an urge to vomit or cough.

Alternative Names

Throat culture and sensitivity; Culture - throat


Nussenbaum B, Bradford CR. Pharyngitis in adults. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds.Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery

Weber R. Pharyngitis. In: Bope ET, Kellerman RD, eds.Conn's Current Therapy 2012

Wessels MR. Clinical practice. Streptococcal pharyngitis. N Engl J Med

Update Date 5/12/2014

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