Treatment for Athlete's Foot

Tinea pedis infections can persist for years and may disappear spontaneously. Fungal foot infections are difficult to treat and often recur. Best results usually are obtained with early treatment before the fungal infection establishes itself firmly. Antifungal drugs may be used to fight the infection and treat athlete's foot.

Initial treatment for athlete's foot involves changing the environment that is allowing the fungus to thrive. Mainly, this occurs as a result of a combination between moisture that develops in the shoes and socks and a lack of sunlight to the skin of the feet. An easy firstline remedy is to wear open-toed shoes if possible. Changing the shoes and socks as needed throughout the day, using powder on the feet and between the toes to help absorb moisture, and exposing the feet to sunlight and air as often as possible also may be helpful.

Imidazole drugs combat fungal infections by attacking the enzymes of the fungal cell walls, inhibiting growth and reproduction. Two of these medications, clotrimazole (sold over-the-counter, Lotrimin®) and miconazole (contained in Lotrimin® and Absorbine Jr.®) are available in cream, powder, spray, or liquid form and can be applied topically and massaged into the skin. Side effects are rare and include mild gastrointestinal distress and liver/kidney enzyme problems.

Another imidazole drug, itraconazole (Sporanox) is available in capsule form. Other preparations in this class include Desenex and Tinactin, which contain tolnaftate.

Allylamines can be used to combat stubborn tinea infections. These prescription drugs cause a buildup of compounds that are toxic to fungi, and include terbinafine (contained in Lamisil) and naftifine (Naftin).

In most cases, 4 to 6 weeks of treatment clears up the infection. If the infection becomes systemic, stronger antifungal medication may be prescribed. These drugs include griseofulvin (Fulvicin and Grisactin) and concentrated forms of terbinafine and itraconazole. Griseofulvin can cause side effects such as headache, nausea, and numbness, so it is used as a last resort.

If the foot infection is bacterial, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.

Publication Review By: James P. Licandro, D.P.M., John J. Swierzewski, D.P.M.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015