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Routine sputum culture

Sputum culture

Routine sputum culture is a laboratory test that looks for germs that cause infection. Sputum is the material that comes up from air passages when you cough deeply.

How the Test is Performed

A sputum sample is needed. You will be asked to cough deeply and spit any phlegm that comes up from your lungs into a special container. The sample is sent to a lab. There, it is placed in a special dish (culture). It is then watched for two to three days or longer to see if bacteria or other disease-causing germs grow.

How to Prepare for the Test

Drinking a lot of water and other fluids the night before the test may make it easier to cough up the sputum.

How the Test will Feel

You will need to cough. Sometimes the health care provider will tap on your chest to loosen deep sputum. Or, you may be asked to inhale a steam-like mist to help you cough up the sputum. You may have some discomfort from having to cough deeply.

Why the Test is Performed

The test helps identify the bacteria or other types of germs that are causing an infection in the lungs or airways (bronchi).

Normal Results

In a normal sputum sample there will be no disease-causing germs. Sometimes the sputum culture grows bacteria because the sample was contaminated by bacteria in the mouth.

What Abnormal Results Mean

If the sputum sample is abnormal, the results are called "positive." Identifying the bacteria, fungus, or virus may help diagnose the cause of:

Risks

There are no risks with this test.

References

Brainard J. Respiratory cytology. In: Zander DS, Farver CF, eds. Pulmonary Pathology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 36.

Daly JS, Ellison RT. Acute pneumonia. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 67.

    • Sputum test

      Sputum test - illustration

      A sputum sample is obtained by coughing deeply and expelling the material that comes from the lungs into a sterile cup. The sample is taken to a laboratory and placed in a medium under conditions that allow the organisms to grow. A positive culture may identify disease-producing organisms that may help diagnose bronchitis, tuberculosis, a lung abscess, or pneumonia.

      Sputum test

      illustration

      • Sputum test

        Sputum test - illustration

        A sputum sample is obtained by coughing deeply and expelling the material that comes from the lungs into a sterile cup. The sample is taken to a laboratory and placed in a medium under conditions that allow the organisms to grow. A positive culture may identify disease-producing organisms that may help diagnose bronchitis, tuberculosis, a lung abscess, or pneumonia.

        Sputum test

        illustration

      Tests for Routine sputum culture

       

      Review Date: 9/29/2019

      Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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