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Sputum Culture

How It Feels

If you have discomfort when taking a deep breath or when coughing, obtaining a sputum sample may be uncomfortable. If you need to inhale the aerosol mist to produce a sputum sample, you will often feel a deep, uncontrollable urge to cough.

During bronchoscopy or collection of a sputum sample using a catheter, you may feel a strong urge to cough as the bronchoscope or catheter passes into the back of your throat. You may also feel as if you cannot breathe. Try to relax and breathe slowly while the bronchoscope or catheter is in place. If you are given medicine to numb your throat and nose, you may feel as if your tongue and throat are swollen and that you cannot swallow.

Risks

Your throat may feel sore following bronchoscopy or collection of a sputum sample using a nasotracheal catheter.

If you have severe asthma or bronchitis, you may find it hard to breathe during collection of a sputum sample using a nasotracheal catheter.

Results

A sputum culture is a test to detect and identify bacteria or fungi that are infecting the lungs or breathing passages. Some types of bacteria or fungi grow quickly in a culture and some grow slowly. Test results may take from one day to several weeks, depending on the type of infection suspected. Some organisms (such as Chlamydophila pneumoniae and mycoplasma) do not grow in a standard culture and need a special growth medium to be detected in a sputum culture.

Sputum culture
Normal:

Sputum that has passed through the mouth normally contains several types of harmless bacteria, including some types of strep (Streptococcus) and staph (Staphylococcus). The culture should not show any harmful bacteria or fungi. Normal culture results are negative.

Abnormal:

Harmful bacteria or fungi are present. The most common harmful bacteria in a sputum culture are those that can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, or tuberculosis. If harmful bacteria or fungi grow, the culture is positive.

If test results point to an infection, sensitivity testing may be done to determine the best antibiotic to kill the bacteria or fungus.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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