Skin Culture

Written by Brian Krans | Published on July 16, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Skin Culture?

A skin culture is used to test for germs that affect yourskin, fingernails,ortoenails.

A skin culture might be called a mucosal culture if it involves the mucosa membranes. These are the moist linings inside certain areas of your body, such as yourlungs, mouth, and nose.

Why a Skin Culture Is Performed

Your doctor will order a skin culture tolook forgerms or fungi that are causing problems with your skin or nails. For example, you might have

  • a rash that seems to be infected
  • an open sore that is not healing correctly
  • a fungal infection

Some conditions that may require a skin culture include:

  • impetigo (a common infection of the skin that is caused by strep or staphbacteria)
  • athlete’s foot
  • diabetic foot ulcers
  • herpes

Your doctor will explain the purpose of the test before taking a sample. Be sure to ask any questions at that time.

Risks of a Skin Culture

A skin culture poses no risks. The sample is collected with a sterile cotton swab and thensent to a laboratory for analysis.

There may be some minor risks if your doctor decides you need a sampling of your skin tissue as well, known as a skin lesion biopsy. For this test, a small sample of your skin will be surgically removed. Talk to your doctor about the method he or she will use to collect the sample and any risks associated with it before the exam.

How to Prepare for a Skin Culture

You will not need to do anything before having a skin culture. Most skin cultures simply use a cotton swab to collect a sample—this requires no preparation from you.

If your doctor also needs a skin sample for biopsy, he or she may givesome easy-to-follow instructions prior to the test.

How a Skin Culture Is Performed

A skin culture is a quick, simpleprocess that can be done in a hospital or at your doctor’s office.

If your doctor is sampling an open wound or ulcer, he or she will take a sterile cotton swab andgently run it over the affected area.If you have an abscess or blister, your doctor may decide to lance (cut) it. This will allow him or her to gather a sample of the pus inside.

The swab will then bepackagedfor the laboratory and you are free to go.

The majority of the work is done in the laboratory. There, technicians will run tests to determine if any bacteria, fungi, or virus may be causing your symptoms.

Your doctor may simply snip off a sample of your fingernail or toenail if the germs are affecting your nails. This is done in the same way you trim your nails at home. These tests may take longer than those that use a sample of your skin.

After a Skin Culture

After a skin culture, you can go about your normal activities immediately. Your doctor will send the sample to the laboratory.

When the tests are complete, the lab will send your doctor the results.He or she will call you to discuss them, or to schedule a follow-up appointment. Your treatment options depend uponyour results and whether the tests showedsigns of bacteria, fungi, or viruses.

Usually, the test results areaccurate enoughto determine the specific strand of virus, fungi, or bacteria. This will help your doctor choose the besttype of medication to treat your infection.

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