When you have a respiratory tract infection or a lung-related condition, your lungs produce a thick substance known as sputum. This substance can make it difficult to breathe, cause coughing, and harbor bacteria. If you experience any of these signs, your doctor might advise a sputum culture. This quickly, relatively painless test helps laboratory technicians study the bacteria or fungi that might be growing in your lungs and triggering the production of the sputum. This can help them find the cause of your health problem. Typically the most challenging part of a sputum culture is getting enough material in a sputum sample for testing.
What Uses Does the Test Have?
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. Signs that might indicate the need for a sputum culture test include:
- a fever or chills
- muscle aches
- breathing difficulties
- chest pain
The test can expose what may be causing the cough and other signs. These include:
- a lung abscess
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- cystic fibrosis
Certain harmful bacteria, viruses, or fungi can trigger respiratory conditions. By identifying what might be triggering your symptoms, your doctor can find the very best medication to cure the infection.
In some instances, your doctor may purchase a complete blood count to determine if white blood cells are elevated. This increase in white blood cells can show an infection.
How Is the Test Performed?
A sputum culture needs very little effort on your part. You simply need to provide the sample for the laboratory to test. You’ll be asked to cough deeply to bring up the sputum from your lungs.
Saliva that can turn up when someone is asked to cough is normally from the mouth and upper respiratory tracts and isn’t useful for this test.
There are a few techniques you can attempt to get an excellent sputum sample, however.
Consuming plenty of fluids can help loosen the secretions and make it simpler to cough up sputum. Your doctor might ask you to wash out your mouth with clear water to assist eliminate any other bacteria and additional saliva.
You’ll be asked to spit the sputum into a small cup. The laboratory requires a minimum of 2 milliliters of sputum for testing. To cough deeply from your lungs, you may need to take three deep breaths before you cough powerfully.
If you’re having problem spending enough sputum, your doctor may attempt tapping on your chest to loosen the sputum. They may likewise have you inhale a steam-like mist to assist you spend the sample.
How Are the Results Interpreted?
When you have actually produced a sputum sample for analyzing, it should be taken to the laboratory within one to 2 hours of coughing it up. The laboratory will place the sample on a special plate that has a nutrient that helps bacteria or other pathogens present in your sputum grow.
The laboratory can run a variety of tests to identify if the growth is a bacterium, an infection, or a fungus. Remember that some bacteria grow naturally in your air passages without causing illness. The laboratory will identify which of the bacteria makes you sick and which keep you well.
The laboratory will then give your doctor a report with the results.
What Are the Risks of the Test?
When you aren’t feeling well, the deep coughing connected with a sputum culture may feel uneasy. You may experience some chest discomfort after giving the sample.
Nevertheless, there are no risks related to having a sputum culture. If you have actually had abdominal surgery, your doctor may advise you to hold a pillow over your stomach prior to coughing to reduce abdominal pain. This technique is known as splinting.