Nasopharyngeal culture is a test that examines a sample of secretions from the uppermost part of the throat, behind the nose, to detect organisms that can cause disease.
You will be asked to cough before the test begins and then tilt your head back. A sterile cotton-tipped swab is gently passed through a nostril and into the nasopharynx. This is the part of the pharynx that covers the roof of the mouth. The swab is quickly rotated and removed. The sample is sent to a laboratory. There, it is placed in a special dish (culture). It is then watched to see if bacteria or other disease-causing organisms grow.
No special preparation is needed.
You may have slight discomfort and may gag.
The test identifies viruses and bacteria that cause upper respiratory tract symptoms. These include:
The culture may be used to help determine which antibiotic is appropriate to treat an infection due to bacteria.
The presence of organisms commonly found in the nasopharynx is normal.
The presence of any disease-causing virus, bacteria, or fungus means these organisms may be causing your infection.
Sometimes, organisms like Staphylococcus aureus can be present without causing disease. This test can help identify resistant strains of this organism (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA) so that people can be isolated when necessary.
There are no risks with this test.
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.