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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Athlete's Foot - Treatment Overview

How you treat athlete's foot (tinea pedis) depends on its type and severity. Most cases of athlete's foot can be treated at home using an antifungal medicine to kill the fungus or slow its growth.

  • Nonprescription antifungals usually are used first. These include clotrimazole (Lotrimin), miconazole (Micatin), terbinafine (Lamisil), and tolnaftate (Tinactin). Nonprescription antifungals are applied to the skin (topical medicines).
  • Prescription antifungals may be tried if nonprescription medicines are not successful 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).

For severe athlete's foot that doesn't improve, your doctor may prescribe oral antifungal medicine (pills). Oral antifungal pills are used only for severe cases, because they are expensive and require periodic testing for dangerous side effects. Athlete's foot can return even after antifungal pill treatment.

Even if your symptoms improve or stop shortly after you begin using antifungal medicine, it is important that you complete the full course of medicine. This increases the chance that athlete's foot will not return. Reinfection is common, and athlete's foot needs to be fully treated each time symptoms develop.

Toe web infections

Toe web camera.gif (interdigital) infections occur between the toes, especially between the fourth and fifth toes. This is the most common type of athlete's foot infection.

  • Treat mild to moderate toe web infections by keeping your feet clean and dry and using nonprescription antifungal creams or lotions.
  • If a severe infection develops, your doctor may prescribe a combination of topical antifungal creams plus either oral or topical antibiotic medicines.

Moccasin-type infections

Moccasin-type camera.gif athlete's foot causes scaly, thickened skin on the sole and heel of the foot. Often the toenails become infected (onychomycosis). A moccasin-type infection is difficult to treat, because the skin on the sole of the foot is very thick.

  • Nonprescription medicines may not penetrate the thick skin of the sole well enough to cure moccasin-type athlete's foot. In this case, a prescription topical antifungal medicine that penetrates the sole, such as ketoconazole, may be used.
  • Prescription oral antifungal medicines are sometimes needed to cure moccasin-type athlete's foot.

Vesicular infections

Vesicular camera.gif infections, or blisters, usually appear on the foot instep but can also develop between the toes, on the sole of the foot, on the top of the foot, or on the heel. This type of fungal infection may be accompanied by a bacterial infection. This is the least common type of infection.

Treatment of vesicular infections may be done at your doctor's office or at home.

  • Your doctor may remove the tops of the blisters and soak your foot until the blister area is dried out.
  • You can dry out the blisters at home by soaking your foot in nonprescription Burow's solution several times a day for 3 or more days until the blister area is dried out. After the area is dried out, use a topical antifungal cream as directed. You can also apply compresses using Burow's solution.
  • If you also have a bacterial infection, you will most likely need an oral antibiotic.
  • If you have a severe infection, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid pills. After improvement, corticosteroid pills are gradually stopped, and antifungal creams and/or pills are used until the infection is gone.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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