Medication for Athlete’s Foot

When over-the-counter remedies aren't enough

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Medication for athlete's foot ranges from over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal products to prescription medications. There are also a number of home remedies said to help athlete's foot. The treatment that will work best for you depends on the severity of your case and the fungus you're infected with.

This article explains when you might need a topical or oral prescription athlete's foot treatment. It also reviews the various options and possible side effects.

Woman applying foot cream
PhotoAlto / Odilon Dimier / Getty Images


People generally notice athlete's foot on the skin between their toes. The skin may:

  • Itch
  • Burn
  • Crack


People tend to regard athlete's foot as a relatively minor and common skin infection, and that's largely true. Studies suggest that anywhere from 15% to 25% of people will get athlete's foot at some point in their life.

Standard over-the-counter antifungal remedies are often enough to clear the fungus. When that's not enough, prescription antifungals may be needed to clear the infection and prevent secondary infections (those that arise as a result of the primary infection).

Generally speaking, prescription medications are needed to treat athlete's foot if:

  • The infection hasn't cleared after four weeks of self-treatment
  • The infection goes away but comes back repeatedly
  • The infection has spread to other parts of the body (such as the nails, groin, or hands)
  • You have developed a secondary infection, such as cellulitis
  • You have a weakened immune system

Athlete's Foot and Diabetes

If you have athlete's foot and diabetes, see your healthcare provider immediately; do not bother with home treatments. Athlete's foot can cause breaks in the skin that can lead to potentially serious complications like foot ulcers and cellulitis in people with diabetes.

Depending on the severity and location of the infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe topical medications (which you apply to the skin) or oral medications (which you take by mouth).

Topical Antifungals

If athlete's foot fails to respond to over-the-counter topical antifungals, your healthcare provider will usually prescribe a prescription-strength version of the same drug.

Prescription topical antifungal options include:

  • Ertaczo (sertaconazole)
  • Exelderm (sulconazole)
  • Lamisil (terbinafine)
  • Lotrimin (clotrimazole)
  • Luzu (luliconazole)
  • Mentax (butenafine)
  • Micatin (miconazole)
  • Naftin (naftifine)
  • Ecoza (econazole)
  • Tinactin (tolnaftate)

Treatment is usually prescribed for four weeks or until at least one week after skin symptoms have all cleared.

Topical antifungals are generally considered safe when used as prescribed. Because prescription antifungals are stronger, it is even more important to adhere to your healthcare provider's instructions.

Possible side effects of topical antifungals include:

  • Skin redness and irritation
  • Burning or stinging
  • Itchiness
  • Pimple-like bumps
  • Tenderness
  • Flaking
  • Swelling

Oral Antifungals

If the athlete's foot fungus is resistant to topical antifungals, oral antifungals may be used to support the treatment. They are less commonly used on their own for fungal skin infections.

Prescription oral antifungal options include:

  • Diflucan (fluconazole)
  • Lamisil (terbinafine)
  • Sporanox (itraconazole)

Treatment may be prescribed for anywhere from one to nine weeks depending on the severity of the infection.

While oral antifungals can be extremely effective, they carry a greater risk of side effects than their topical counterparts. Side effects can vary by the drug used:

  • Diflucan: Side effects include headaches, diarrhea, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, and changes in taste.
  • Lamisil: Side effects are similar to Diflucan but also include diarrhea, gas, stuffy nose, cough, and dizziness. Long-term use can cause liver damage.
  • Sporanox: Side effects are similar to Lamisil but also include constipation and joint pain. Sporanox should not be used if you have congestive heart failure.

As with all drugs, prescription topical and oral athlete's foot treatments carry a risk of side effects. Many of these tend to be mild, but, with oral antifungals especially, some can be severe.

Oral Antifungals and Pregnancy

High doses of Diflucan and other oral antifungals are typically avoided in pregnant people as they can harm a fetus. When used for athlete's foot, the benefits of treatment will rarely outweigh the risks.

Home Remedies

Some home remedies have been said to help athlete's foot, but there is limited evidence as to whether they're effective.

Bitter Orange

Made from the dried peel of the bitter orange fruit, this oil has been used in traditional medicine for a variety of functions, from nausea to constipation. The National Institutes of Health says that applying bitter orange oil to the skin may help with athlete's foot, though it notes that only a small number of studies have been conducted into how the oil affects athlete's foot.

While applying this oil to the skin is generally safe, there's a chance that you may have a reaction. It's best to speak to a healthcare provider before trying this remedy.

Green Tea

It's possible that soaking your foot in a green tea bath may help your athlete's foot. One study found that participants with athlete's foot who routinely took a green tea foot bath for 12 weeks had improved symptoms compared to people who took a foot bath with a placebo.

However, there's not enough evidence to say for sure whether green tea can effectively reduce athlete's foot symptoms for most people.

Tea Tree Oil

Long used in Australia as a topical skin treatment, some research shows tea tree oil may help speed up healing of athlete's foot.

One study found that it worked as effectively as tolnaftate to improve symptoms such as scaling and itching in 104 people with athlete's foot. It also worked better than a placebo. However, the study also found that only the group who used tolnaftate cured their athlete's foot.

In another study, researchers reported that participants who used either a 25% tea tree oil solution or a 50% tea tree oil solution dramatically improved athlete's foot symptoms compared to people who used a placebo. Of those using the 50% solution, 64% cured their athlete's foot, compared to 31 percent using the placebo.

Sunflower Oil

Ozonized sunflower oil is believed to have anti-fungal properties, and one older study suggests that rubbing it on the foot may help with athlete's foot. In a double blind study, participants who treated their athlete's foot with sunflower oil had improved symptoms in line with a group that used a ketaconazole cream, an over-the-counter anti-fungal medicine.


You can help to prevent athlete's foot by taking steps to avoid the fungus that causes it. That means wearing shoes in communal areas such as locker rooms and pool decks, and not sharing linens, towels, or shoes with someone you live with if they have athlete's foot.

Other precautions include:

  • Keeping your feet dry (the fungus thrives in moist, warm areas)
  • Washing your feet with soap every day and drying them completely
  • Alternating the shoes you wear daily so you can give them a chance to dry before putting them on


Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection of the foot.

Mild cases can usually be treated with over-the-counter ointments, but severe or persistent cases may require topical or oral prescription medications like Spectazole (econazole) and Lamisil (terbinafine).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is my athlete’s foot not responding to any treatment?

    It could be that you need a stronger medication, or you may not have athlete’s foot after all. Eczema, dry skin, and other conditions are similar to athlete’s foot but require different treatments. See your healthcare provider to get the right diagnosis.

  • What is the best prescription athlete's foot treatment?

    There's no clear-cut best prescription medicine for athlete's foot, but common prescriptions known to be successful in treating the condition include Lamisil (terbinafine), Sporanox (itraconazole), and Diflucan (fluconazole).

15 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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  11. Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australas J Dermatol. 43.3 (2002): 175-178. DOI: 10.1046/j.1440-0960.2002.00590.x

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By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, is a medical writer and editor covering new treatments and trending health news.