Athlete’s Foot Treatment Options

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Athlete’s foot is a form of fungal infection that begins between the toes but can spread to the rest of the feet. It most commonly develops when a person has damp or sweaty feet for an extended period, causing an itchy, scaly rash. Various treatment options are available for athlete’s foot, including prescription medications and home remedies.

This article discusses treatment options for athlete's foot.

Person applying medicated lotion to foot

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Symptoms

While the most notable symptom of athlete’s foot is a scaly and itchy rash, other symptoms can develop, including:

  • Lightening of the skin
  • Wrinkly-looking skin
  • Cracks in the skin
  • Thickening patches of skin
  • Large blisters filled with clear liquid or pus

What Area of the Foot is Affected?

The most common area of the foot affected by athlete’s foot is the space between the toes. However, as the fungus spreads, it can cause issues on the soles and sides of the feet and the heels.

Causes

Athlete’s foot is caused by a type of fungus known as dermatophyte. Within the group of dermatophytes are specific fungi that lead to the condition, including:

  • Trichophyton rubrum
  • Trichophyton mentagrophytes
  • Epidermophyton floccosum

These fungi tend to grow on the skin, hair, nails, feathers of animals, and mucous membranes. The infection is contagious, and roughly 1 in every 5 adults will have athlete's foot at some point in their lives.

Who’s Most Likely to Get Athlete’s Foot?

The development or spread of athlete’s foot can commonly occur in:

  • People who often use public pools, showers, or fitness centers
  • People with obesity
  • People who wear closed shoes
  • People who have conditions that compromise how well the immune system functions
  • People who work in professions that require industrial footwear, such as miners and soldiers
  • People living in long-term care facilities and other communal institutions

Athlete’s Foot Treatment

There are various treatment options available for people with athlete’s foot, including home remedies and medication.

Home Remedies

Home remedies are often highly effective for athlete’s foot. Some possible home remedies include:

  • Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide has been shown to kill the fungus that causes the infection if it is applied properly. Apply directly to the skin twice per day.
  • Tea tree oil: Studies have shown that tea tree oil can effectively heal an athlete’s foot infection, especially if the particular fungus causing it is the Trichophyton rubrum fungus. Before applying to the skin, tea tree oil should be mixed with a carrier oil at a ratio of 50/50.
  • Allicin: Allicin is an active compound found in garlic. Studies show that pure allicin can help heal an athlete’s foot infection quickly. However, applying garlic extract may also work if you cannot find pure allicin. It will have a weaker effect, though.

Essential Oils and Athlete's Foot

Certain essential oils such as thyme, peppermint, and clove possess antifungal properties that may help treat an athlete’s foot infection. However, using them correctly is important as they can do more harm than good if misused. Therefore, all essential oils should be diluted using a carrier oil.

Topical Medication

Various types of topical medications can be found either over-the-counter (OTC) or through a prescription.

These medications fall into the antifungals category. Antifungals are designed to kill fungus and slow its growth. Some OTC remedies include:

  • Lotriderm (clotrimazole
  • Tinactin (tolnaftate)
  • Desenex (miconazole)
  • Lamisil (terbinafine)

Prescription antifungal medications are often recommended for more serious cases and are highly effective because they come in higher strengths. Medication strengths determine how much of the medicinal ingredient is found in the medicine.

Some prescriptions available for the treatment of athlete’s foot include:

  • Clotrimazole
  • Miconazole
  • Terbinafine

Topical medications should be applied twice daily until the infection has cleared.

How Long Will The Infection Last?

After you have begun treatment, your case of athlete’s foot will likely clear up within two to four weeks.

Other Treatments

Oral antifungals may be required to help treat athlete’s foot. These medications are prescribed by a healthcare provider and should be taken if a person:

  • Has a severe form of the infection
  • Has a compromised immune system
  • Still has the infection even after using topical treatments

When to See a Healthcare Provider If Treatment Does't Work

If at-home treatment isn't working and your infection persists or worsens, contact your healthcare provider for an appointment. They will discuss further treatment options with you. You should also see your healthcare provider if the infection spreads to other parts of the body. 

Prevention

While athlete’s foot is common and treatable, it is still better to do what you can to prevent the infection. Some prevention techniques include:

  • Dry your feet completely after showering or being in the water
  • Wash your towels regularly
  • Change socks or shoes if your feet become sweaty
  • Avoid wearing closed-toed shoes at home or in situations where it's not required
  • Always wear clean socks
  • Wear sandals or other protective footwear in communal areas such as public pools, showers, or fitness centers

Summary

Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that starts as a scaly rash in the area between your toes. As the infection spreads, it can lead to other symptoms such as thick skin patches and blisters. The infection is common. It often spreads in public areas such as swimming pools and public showers. It can also develop in people who have damp feet a lot of the time.

Treating athlete’s foot can be done effectively at home with OTC remedies and alternative therapies such as essential oils. After beginning treatment, the infection should clear up within two to four weeks. If it worsens or doesn't clear up after four weeks, contact your healthcare provider for stronger medication.

A Word From Verywell 

Having athlete’s foot is an uncomfortable experience. Many people may even feel embarrassed by it. However, it is incredibly common and easy to contract. If you have an athlete’s foot infection, there are many treatments you can try that will help you get rid of it and restore your foot health.

The best thing you can do to prevent the infection is to keep your feet nice and dry whenever possible and avoid areas where the likelihood of contracting it is high.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the fastest way to cure athlete's foot?

    The time it takes to cure athlete's foot will vary depending on how severe it is. Some treatments are also stronger than others. If you want to heal your athlete's foot fast, you can get a prescription for an antifungal treatment from your healthcare provider.

  • Should I wear socks to bed with athlete's foot?

    If you have athlete’s foot, you can easily spread it to other people in your household. While wearing socks all the time may not be possible, you should aim to wear them as much as you can while you have the infection and to bed at night to protect your partner from contracting it.

  • How long does it take for athlete's foot to go away?

    Not everyone that has athlete’s foot will experience the same healing timeline. Some people may heal in as little as two weeks, while others may take up to four weeks to heal. The treatment you use and how severe the infection is will determine your healing time.

  • Will athlete's foot go away on its own?

    Athlete’s foot will not heal on its own. The fungus that causes the infection will continue to grow and multiply causing the infection to spread. When that happens, the infection will only worsen over time.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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