Throat cultures can be intimidating to a child, but they do not need to be traumatic. The procedure causes only a moment of discomfort (a gagging reflex) as the swab makes contact. Explaining the procedure to the child and giving the child some control and coping methods helps, both in getting through the moment and for the next time, too.
Throat cultures can be challenging, Szafran admits, because you have to have the child's trust. A child who is fearful and does not trust the nurse may refuse to open his or her mouth, which can raise the stress levels and anxiety of everyone in the room. The encounter is more difficult, says Szafran, if the child has had a bad experience previously. Perhaps the child was held down or had the tongue depressor forced into the mouth. It is harder for the child to trust the medical personnel after an incident in which he or she was forced.
To put the child at ease, Szafran suggests showing the child a swab, giving the child a swab to hold and touch, and explaining that the swab, which will be put into the mouth to collect a sample from the throat, is similiar to a big Q-tip cotton swab like they have at home.
Szafran also has a technique to avoid using a tongue depressor (the tongue depressor, she says, is what bothers the children, not the swab). She asks the child to open his or her mouth and scream one time loudly just as she puts the swab in, so the child can show just how loud his or her scream can be. The scream pushes the tongue down, she explains, so you do not need a tongue depressor. Other medical staff may use other techniques that they have found to work well.
If you anticipate a difficult time, ask what steps can be taken to avoid a struggle and create a non-intimidating situation for the child.