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Culture, bacterial

Culture, bacterial


When you have a respiratory tract infection or a lung-related disorder, your lungs produce a thick substance known as sputum. This substance can make it hard to breathe, cause coughing, and harbor bacteria. If you experience any of these symptoms, your doctor may recommend a sputum culture.

This fast, relatively painless test helps laboratory technicians study the bacteria or fungi that might be growing in your lungs and causing the production of the sputum. This can help them find the cause of your illness.

Often the most difficult part of a sputum culture is getting enough material in a sputum sample for testing


There are many different types of bacteria culture tests. Ask your health care provider if you need to do anything to prepare for your test.

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Your test sample doesn't contain enough cells for your health care provider to detect an infection. So your sample will be sent to a lab to allow the cells to grow. If there is an infection, the infected cells will multiply. Most disease-causing bacteria will grow enough to be seen within one to two days, but it can take some organisms five days or longer.

Result explanation

If enough bacteria is found in your sample, it likely means you have a bacterial infection. Your health care provider may order additional tests to confirm a diagnosis or determine the severity of the infection. Your provider may also order a "susceptibility test" on your sample. A susceptibility test is used to help determine which antibiotic will be most effective in treating your infection. If you have questions about your results, talk to your health care provider.

The laboratory can run a number of tests to determine if the growth is a bacterium, a virus, or a fungus. Remember that some bacteria grow naturally in your airways without causing illness. The laboratory will determine which of the bacteria makes you sick and which keep you well.

The laboratory will then give your doctor a report with the results.

Common uses

Sputum collects in the lower parts of your lungs and bronchi, which are the tube-like pathways that air moves through to reach your lungs. Symptoms that may indicate the need for a sputum culture test include:

cough a fever or chills fatigue muscle aches breathing difficulties chest pain confusion The test can reveal what may be causing the cough and other symptoms. These include:

bronchitis a lung abscess pneumonia tuberculosis chronic obstructive pulmonary disease cystic fibrosis Certain harmful bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause respiratory conditions. By determining what may be causing your symptoms, your doctor can find the best medication to cure the infection.

In some instances, your doctor may order a complete blood count to determine if white blood cells are elevated. This increase in white blood cells can indicate an infection.

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