How Do I Treat Athlete’s Foot at Home?
Athlete’s foot is a common contagious skin infection that can be treated at home or by a specialist in more severe cases. This foot fungus thrives in moist environments and spreads through contact with an infected person or with a contaminated surface. Over-the-counter foot medications and home remedies can help get rid of athlete’s foot. In cases where these treatments do not work, you should see a doctor to get a prescription medication or discuss other types of foot care and treatment.
Treatment of Athlete’s Foot
There are various forms of treatment for athlete’s foot. While you do not necessarily need to see a doctor to get treatment for athlete’s foot, you should call or visit your doctor if:
- The foot does not appear to be getting better after home or over-the-counter treatment
- The foot looks infected (red, purple, gray, or white skin, and any irritation or swelling)
- The infection spreads to other areas of your body
Self-Treatment & Over-The-Counter Medications
There are many self-treatments for athlete’s foot, including lifestyle changes (such as those mentioned in the ‘prevention’ section) and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Common OTC medications are powders, sprays, lotions, and ointments and usually cost between $5 and $20. Medication is generally applied topically (on the skin) to the affected area and used for at least one week after symptoms settle to prevent the infection from returning.
Best Over-The-Counter Medication for Athlete’s Foot
Applied to the affected area 2x a day for 4-8 weeks
Applied to the affected area 2x a day for 1 week, or 1x a day for 4 weeks
Applied to the affected area 2x a day for 1-4 weeks
Applied to the affected area 2x a day for 2-4 weeks
Topical: Applied to affected area 1x a day for 2-6 weeks; Oral: once a day
Home Remedies for Athlete’s Foot
Many people treat their athlete’s foot using home remedies. However, it is important to remember that there is no concrete scientific evidence that these remedies effectively treat athlete’s foot. The at-home treatments listed below do not require a trip to the doctor, allowing you to take care of the infection from the comfort of your own home. However, if your condition does not improve, you should consult your doctor.
Primary and Urgent Care
If you believe you have athlete’s foot, you can consult your primary care provider or a doctor at an urgent care facility. A health care provider can diagnose athlete's foot simply by looking at the suspected infection. Your doctor may conduct additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions. These include an office test called a KOH exam to check for fungus, a skin culture, or a skin biopsy with a special stain called PAS to identify the fungus.
If you have been unsuccessful with self-treatment, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal cream or ointment. Commonly prescribed oral antifungal medications include:
- Sporanox (Itraconazole)
- Lamisil (terbinafine)
- Diflucan (fluconazole)
If athlete’s foot is left untreated, it can spread to your nail(s) and other areas of skin, such as the hands or groin. If you suspect a growing infection, you should go to your doctor. Common signs of a possible bacterial infection include the infected area being painful, swollen, having red streaks, pus, drainage, or a fever.
In most cases, your primary care doctor will be able to diagnose and treat your athlete’s foot. However, if your infection is severe or might require surgery, you will likely be referred to a dermatologist or podiatrist.
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Athlete’s Foot Infections
Athlete’s foot is a commonly occurring fungal skin infection that usually begins between the toes. It can spread to you in various ways, including skin-to-skin contact or touching a contaminated surface, and can last a few days to a few weeks. It is usually self-treatable and self-diagnosable, but some severe cases may require you to see a medical professional such as your primary care physician, a dermatologist, or a podiatrist. It is estimated that 3% to 15% of the population has athlete’s foot, and 70% of the population will get athlete’s foot at some point.
Source: Cleveland Clinic
Another name for athlete’s foot is Tinea Pedis, meaning “ringworm of the foot.” The four main types of athlete's foot are categorized by where the symptoms manifest and the appearance of the infection. The table below depicts the different types of athlete’s foot.
Four Types of Athlete’s Foot Infections
Type of Athlete’s Foot Infection
Source: Cleveland Clinic
Causes of Athlete’s Foot
The same type of fungus that causes ringworm and jock itch also causes athlete’s foot. This type of fungus is called a dermatophyte and is known to cause many skin diseases in both humans and animals. It spreads through contact with an infected person or a contaminated surface. Athlete’s Foot is especially contagious, as you can also spread it from the foot to other parts of the body.
You may be at a higher risk for developing athlete’s foot if you:
- Walk around barefoot in public areas (e.g., locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools)
- Sweat excessively
- Have diabetes
- Spend a lot of time wearing enclosed footwear
- Keep your feet wet for long periods
- Share specific items (e.g., towels, rugs, linens) with someone who has a fungal infection
Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
There are many signs that you may be developing or have developed athlete’s foot, but the most common is an itchy scaly rash between the toes. The Mayo Clinic lists some additional symptoms associated with athlete’s foot:
- Cracking or peeling skin between the toes
- Dry, scaly skin on the bottom of the foot that extends up the side
- Burning or stinging
- Inflamed skin that might appear reddish, purplish, or grayish
Prevention of Athlete’s Foot
The dermatophyte bacteria thrives in moist environments, so the best form of prevention is to keep your feet dry and clean. By understanding what causes athlete’s foot, you can prevent yourself from getting it and spreading it to others. Being mindful in specific environments, such as public settings, can aid you in preventing the condition from developing. Below are some actions that the Cleveland Clinic recommends to prevent the spread of athlete’s foot:
- Wearing shower shoes, flip-flops, or sandals in public spaces
- Thoroughly drying your feet after getting them wet
- Wearing socks made of natural fabrics
- Changing your socks every day and when they get wet
- Thoroughly washing your feet and the skin between your toes
- Avoiding wearing rubber or synthetic shoes for long periods
- Avoiding sharing shoes, linen, or walking in areas where an infected person has
- Being aware of the risk factors for this foot fungus
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Treating Athlete’s Foot Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Consider this additional information when looking into treatment for athlete’s foot.
Could I be mistaking my athlete’s foot for something else?
A few conditions (e.g., eczema, psoriasis) are similar to athlete’s foot but require different treatments. If you have found no success with OTC medication or home remedies, you should visit a doctor, as you may have a different condition. Even if it is athlete’s foot, a doctor can prescribe you a stronger antifungal cream or oral medication to resolve the infection.
What will happen if I leave my athlete’s foot untreated?
Athlete’s foot does not usually cause any serious problems in otherwise healthy people, but it does not go away on its own. If left untreated, it has the potential to spread to other areas of the body, creating more discomfort and even making you more vulnerable to a bacterial infection. Athlete’s foot can also affect the toenails, causing them to thicken, become discolored, or crumble.
When should I start seeing improvements after beginning treatment for athlete’s foot?
Generally speaking, the infected area should clear up one to four weeks after starting treatment, with noticeable improvements taking place within the first few days of treatment. If you do not see any improvement within a week, it is recommended to consult a healthcare provider.
When it comes to athlete’s foot, prevention is key. Keeping your feet dry and practicing proper hygiene are essential to preventing athlete’s foot from developing. The most common form of treatment is over-the-counter medications, but some cases may require prescription medication. It is essential to take the proper steps towards the treatment of athlete’s foot as soon as possible to prevent further spread of the infection.
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Kendra Bean is from Maui, Hawaiʻi. She is currently enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, specializing in Epidemiology. She is passionate about improving health literacy and access to care, specifically in rural areas.