A sputum culture tests a sample of mucus coughed up from your child’s lungs. The test checks for bacteria, viruses, or fungus in the mucus.
This test may be done to see what is causing an infection of your child’s airways. It can help your child’s healthcare provider know how to treat the infection.
There are several ways to get a sputum sample. Your child may be asked to breathe a mist that will make him start coughing. If your child is able to cough up a sample, he will be asked to cough and spit some mucus into a sterile cup. It’s important that your child take several deep breaths first and try to cough up a sample from deep in his lungs. The saliva from your child’s mouth will not be helpful. Keep the lid on the cup until your child is ready to spit out the sample. Try not to touch the inside of the container. Put the lid back on the container as soon as you are done. The sample will then be sent to the lab.
A bronchoscopy is another way to get a mucus sample. For a bronchoscopy, a healthcare provider uses a flexible, lighted tube to look at the airways in your child’s lungs and get fluid (mucus) and tissue samples. Your child will be given a numbing medicine to keep him from gagging and medicine to relax him before the procedure.
Ask your healthcare provider when and how you will get the result of your child’s test.
A negative test result means no bacteria or fungus grew in the culture. A negative test result is considered a normal test result.
A positive test result usually means your child has a lung infection, like bronchitis or pneumonia. However, the result could be positive when your child doesn’t have an infection if too many bacteria from your child’s mouth got in the sample.
Test results are only one part of a larger picture that takes into account your child’s medical history and current health. Sometimes a test needs to be repeated to check the first result. Talk to your healthcare provider about the result and ask questions, such as: