Fungal Culture

Written by Tricia Kinman
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on June 5, 2013

Fungal Culture

A fungal culture is a type of procedure that is used to determine if fungi are present in an area of the body.  Fungi are microorganisms that thrive in moist, dark places, such as in shoes, a damp locker room, or in the folds of the skin. Some fungi are not harmful, while other types can cause infections.

A fungal culture can be done as:

  • a throat culture
  • a blood culture
  • a skin culture
  • a genital culture
  • a wound culture
  • a mucoscal culture
  • a nail or fingernail culture

This test can help determine if you have an infection and, if needed, what type of fungus is causing the infection. This information can help your doctor determine the most effective treatment course.

A fungal culture might also be referred to as a fungal smear.

When Would Your Doctor Recommend This Test?

If your doctor suspects that you have an infection, he or she will perform a fungal culture on the suspected area. Common types of fungal infections include:

  • Athlete’s foot
  • Yeast infection or jock itch
  • Onychomycosis (fungal nail infection)
  • Thrush

Sometimes the symptoms of a fungal infection mimic or look like the symptoms of a bacterial or viral infection. Because the medications used to treat bacterial and viral infections aren’t effective on fungal infections, doctors might want to perform a fungal culture to be sure that an infection is caused by a fungus.

Some typical signs and symptoms of a fungal infection in the skin are itchy, red skin and scales. Symptoms of a fungal infection in the nails include thick nails that are brittle and yellow in color. Signs of a fungal infection in the mouth include white patches in the mouth. During a yeast infection, vaginal discharge and itching occurs.

Most fungal infections occur on the skin, mouth, or genitals. Some infections can be more serious and occur inside the body, such as in the lungs or the blood. A fungal culture can aid in identifying the type of fungus so that the best treatment choice can be made.

What Happens During This Procedure?

During this test, a health care provider brushes a large cotton swab over the area where the infection is present. For a throat culture, a patient is asked to open their mouth wide so that the care provider can swab the back of the throat. If a health care provider suspects a nail infection, clippings may be taken and sent to the lab. If they suspect a blood infection caused by a fungus, a blood culture (or blood sample) will be taken.

The swab is then sent to the lab for analysis. There is no pain with a fungal culture, and no preparation needed. There is little risk associated with a fungal culture.

Sometimes it can take a few weeks to get the results of a fungal culture. In the meantime, treatment with medication is sometimes recommended. It is a good idea to keep an area with a possible fungal infection dry. Because fungal infections can spread, washing hands regularly is also recommended.

Results

If the results from the culture are negative or normal, this means there are no fungi present. If the results are positive, this means there are fungi present. A care provider might order a test to identify the type of fungus that is present to make sure the correct treatment can be found. Some types of microorganisms occur normally on the skin.  

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