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Athlete’s foot treatment

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 4 minutes read
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Athlete’s foot (also known as tinea pedis) is a fungal skin infection affecting the feet. Symptoms usually include a rash in between the toes that can sometimes spread to the soles of your feet. The rash is typically red, sore, and itchy and has clear edges that can form a ring-like pattern. Athlete’s foot can affect one or both of your feet. Fungi called dermatophytes are responsible for athlete’s foot. They usually live harmlessly on our skin, however when exposed to a warm, moist environment, they can multiply and invade the skin.

Doctor’s advice

What medicines are available to treat athlete’s foot?

Anti-fungal medicines such as clotrimazole, miconazole, tolnaftate, terbinafine, econazole, ketoconazole, and undecenoic acid are used to treat athlete’s foot. You can buy them from your pharmacy without a prescription, and there are lots of different products available. Formulations include creams, powders, gels, and sprays. There is no evidence to suggest that one antifungal medicine is better than the others, so it comes down to personal preference. You should only use one anti-fungal medicine at a time. They work by killing the dermatophytes that cause athlete’s foot, and usually do this by disrupting the production of important components needed for the fungal cell membrane.

For children, it’s best to use clotrimazole, miconazole or econazole based treatments.

Apply the treatment as directed, and because this varies between different treatments always read the instructions carefully. You may need to use them for a fortnight after the rash has cleared to stop it returning. Typical treatments include:

Clotrimazole: apply 2-3 times a day for at least a month.

Miconazole: apply twice a day and continue for 10 days after your skin is back to normal.

Econazole: use twice a day until your skin is back to normal.

Ketoconazole: apply twice a day for seven days but don’t use on children.

Terbinafine: apply once or twice a day for seven days but again, don’t use on children.

Always try to avoid any creams or products that have steroids in them (such as hydrocortisone). Although these may initially seem to help by relieving itching and soreness, they can actually make the spread of the fungus worse.

Self-care tips

To prevent and manage athlete’s foot, you need to stop your feet from becoming hot and sweaty. Therefore, you should avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes, avoid wearing shoes in the house, try to rotate between the footwear you wear, dry your feet well after washing them, and wear clean socks every day.

Fungal spores can spread from person to person when your body naturally sheds skin, so if you have athlete’s foot, you should avoid sharing towels, socks, and shoes, and wear flip flops in communal changing rooms and showers. These measures can also stop you from getting athlete’s foot again in the future. Fungal spores can also spread to other parts of your body. Therefore, if you have athlete’s foot, you should avoid scratching affected areas of skin and use a separate towel for your feet.

When to see your doctor

You should make an appointment to see your doctor if medicines from your pharmacy have not helped treat the problem. They may decide to take a small scraping of skin from your feet to send to a laboratory to check you have athlete’s foot. If your infection is severe or widespread, your doctor may recommend an antifungal tablet instead of a cream. You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system, or if your rash has spread to other parts of your body, such as your hands.

You should seek urgent medical advice if your foot is hot or very painful. This may indicate that you also have a bacterial infection that will require antibiotic treatment.

If your doctor is unclear on the diagnosis or your treatment has been ineffective, they may refer you to a dermatologist.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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