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Athlete’s foot treatment

Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 22.02.2023 | 3 min read

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.

What medicines are available to treat athlete’s foot?

Antifungal medicines such as clotrimazole, miconazole, tolnaftate, terbinafine, butenafine, and undecylenic 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 antifungal medication 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.

Self-care tips

To prevent and manage athlete’s foot, you need to prevent 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 prevent 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.

What about herbal medicines?

If you prefer herbal medicines, you could try using a product that contains lavender, tea tree oil, and echinacea. However, it is not clear how effective these are as there is not much scientific evidence to support their use.

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 if 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, 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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