Treating athlete's foot 

Most cases of athlete’s foot are mild and can be treated at home using self-care methods and antifungal medication.

This type of fungal infection usually responds quickly to treatment.

If you have a more severe infection, your GP may prescribe a stronger antifungal medication, which will usually be in tablet form.

If athlete's foot isn't treated, the infection may spread to your toenails, causing a fungal nail infection, or to other areas of your body such as the palms of your hands.

Self care

The following measures can help treat athlete’s foot:

  • Wash your feet regularly and thoroughly using soap and water.
  • After washing, dry your feet, paying particular attention to the areas between your toes.
  • Wear clean cotton socks.
  • Change your shoes and socks regularly to help keep your feet dry.
  • Don't share towels and wash your towels regularly.

Antifungal medication

Antifungal medication works by killing the fungi that are causing your infection. This type of medicine is available in several different forms, including:

  • creams
  • sprays
  • liquids 
  • powders
  • tablets

Topical antifungal medicines, which are applied directly to the affected area, are widely available from pharmacies without a prescription.

The type of antifungal medicine you use is usually down to personal preference. Your pharmacist can recommend the most suitable antifungal for you.

Specific types of antifungal medicine include:

  • terbinafine 
  • clotrimazole 
  • econazole 
  • ketoconazole 
  • miconazole 
  • sulconazole

Oral antifungal medicines include:

  • itraconazole 
  • griseofulvin 
  • terbinafine 

In rare cases, antifungal medicines can cause liver inflammation in people who are susceptible.

Antifungal treatments in tablet form are usually only recommended to treat severe cases of athlete's foot or when topical antifungals haven't worked. They're also usually needed to clear toenail infections.


Some antifungal tablets aren't suitable for children or elderly people. Check the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine to see if it's suitable for children. Different doses may be needed for children of different ages.

Some antifungal treatments can interfere with pregnancy and the reproductive system in both men and women. Your GP will be able to give you more information and advice about using antifungal medicines.

How to use antifungal medication

Apply antifungal medication directly to the rash and surrounding area (4-6cm) of normal, healthy skin. Make sure that the area is dry before applying the treatment.

Sometimes, skin can be infected with the fungus without showing any symptoms. Therefore, it's important to treat the surrounding area of skin to help prevent re-infection. Always wash your hands before and after applying the treatment. 

Continue to apply the antifungal treatment for as long as recommended in the instructions that come with the medicine. Some antifungals need to be used for longer than others.

Your rash may clear up quickly, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the infection has gone. Therefore, you may need to continue using the medication for one to two weeks after your symptoms have disappeared to ensure the infection has been successfully treated.

Hydrocortisone treatment

If athlete's foot is making your skin particularly sore and inflamed, you can use an antifungal treatment containing an ingredient called hydrocortisone.

Treatments with low doses of hydrocortisone are available over the counter from pharmacies. However, if you have a severe infection, your GP may prescribe a stronger hydrocortisone treatment. 

Hydrocortisone reduces inflammation and eases irritation and itching. Again, it's important that you follow the instructions that come with the treatment.

Hydrocortisone can't be used for longer than seven days. You may need to use an alternative antifungal treatment (that doesn't contain hydrocortisone) until your infection has been effectively treated.

When to see your GP

You only need to see your GP if you have severe athlete's foot that doesn't clear up after using self care methods and antifungal medication.

You should also visit your GP if you develop a secondary infection as a result of athlete’s foot. They may prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

Page last reviewed: 16/01/2014

Next review due: 16/01/2016