Antifungal medicines that are used on the skin (topical) are usually the first choice for treating athlete's foot (tinea pedis). They are available in prescription or nonprescription forms. Nonprescription medicines are usually tried first.
For severe cases of athlete's foot, your doctor may prescribe oral antifungals (pills). But treatment with this medicine is expensive, requires periodic testing for dangerous side effects, and does not guarantee a cure.
When you are treating athlete's foot, it is important that you use the full course of the medicine. Using it as directed, even after the symptoms go away, increases the likelihood that you will kill the fungi and that the infection will not return.
Prescription antifungals may be tried if nonprescription medicines do not help or if you have a severe infection. Some of these medicines are topical antifungals, which are put directly on the skin. Examples include butenafine (Mentax), clotrimazole, and naftifine (Naftin). Prescription antifungals can also be taken as a pill, which are called oral antifungals. Examples of oral antifungals include fluconazole (Diflucan), itraconazole (Sporanox), and terbinafine (Lamisil).
What to think about
You may choose not to treat athlete's foot if your symptoms don't bother you and you have no health problems that increase your risk of severe foot infection, such as diabetes. But an untreated athlete's foot infection causing skin blisters or cracks can lead to severe bacterial infection. Also, if you don't treat athlete's foot, you can spread it to other people.
If your symptoms do not improve after 2 weeks of treatment or have not gone away after 4 weeks of treatment, call your doctor.
Some topical antifungal medicines work faster (1 to 2 weeks) than other topical medicines (4 to 8 weeks). All of the faster-acting medicines have similar cure rates.1 The fast-acting medicines may cost more than the slower-acting ones, but you use less of these medicines to fully treat a fungal infection. Oral antifungal medicines are typically taken for 2 to 8 weeks.