Prescription Topical Antifungals for Athlete's Foot

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Prescription Topical Antifungals for Athlete's Foot


Topical allylamines

Generic NameBrand Name

Topical azoles

Generic NameBrand Name

Other topical antifungals

Generic NameBrand Name

Topical medicines are put directly on the skin. These medicines are available in cream, solution, gel, and lotion forms. One medicine may be available in many forms. Your doctor will help you decide which form is best for you.

Lotrisone combines a topical antifungal (clotrimazole) with a topical corticosteroid (betamethasone).

Allylamines and azoles are different classes of antifungal medicine. Medicine from one class may work better for you than medicine from the other.

How It Works

All of these medicines kill fungi. See the medicine label for specific instructions. In general:

  • Butenafine is used for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Other topical medicines are used for 4 weeks, except for topical ketoconazole, which is used for 6 weeks.

If you stop taking the medicines early, even after symptoms are gone, an athlete's foot infection will likely return. It is very important to use the medicine for the entire time directed.

Why It Is Used

Prescription antifungals usually are used to treat athlete's foot when treatment with nonprescription antifungals has not been successful or the athlete's foot is severe.

The topical forms are used for mild to moderate cases of athlete's foot.

Ciclopirox and sulconazole also can treat bacterial infections that might occur along with a fungal infection.

Ketoconazole penetrates thick skin well and is a good treatment option for moccasin-type infections.

Clotrimazole-betamethasone may be used when the athlete's foot rash is itchy and burning.

For severe cases or when topical medicines do not work, oral antifungal medicines (pills) are used.

How Well It Works

Both topical and oral forms of prescription antifungals are effective in curing athlete's foot for most people.

Topical allylamines require a shorter course of treatment (1 week) than do topical azoles (4 to 8 weeks). Also, studies show that allylamine medicines work slightly better than azole medicines.1 Although allylamines are more expensive than azoles, you use less of this medicine to successfully treat a fungal infection.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Skin rash, blistering, itching, or other skin irritation you did not have before using this medicine.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Topical antifungals rarely cause side effects. If you have a problem, stop using the medicine and talk to your doctor.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Crawford F (2009). Athlete's foot, search date July 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last RevisedJune 1, 2012

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