Prescription Oral Antifungals for Athlete's Foot

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Prescription Oral Antifungals for Athlete's Foot


Oral allylamines

Generic NameBrand Name
terbinafineLamisil Tab

Oral azoles

Generic NameBrand Name

Allylamines and azoles are different classes of antifungal medicine. This is important because medicine from one class may work better than medicine from the other.

How It Works

Prescription oral antifungal medicines slow the growth of or kill fungi.

Oral medicines are usually taken for 1 to 8 weeks. The exact amount of time varies and depends on how much medicine you take each day.

If you stop taking the medicine early, even after your symptoms are gone, an athlete's foot infection will likely return. It is very important to take the entire course of medicine.

Why It Is Used

Oral antifungals for athlete's foot (tinea pedis) are usually only used for a severe infection or when topical antifungal medicines have not cured the infection. Some oral antifungals can also be used for fungal toenail infections, which may occur with athlete's foot.

How Well It Works

Research shows that oral antifungals successfully cure athlete's foot for many people. With moccasin-type athlete's foot, which is especially hard to cure, terbinafine seems to work as well as itraconazole.1

Side Effects

Oral medicines can cause minor to serious side effects. Minor side effects may include:

  • Stomach upset.
  • Headaches.
  • Skin rashes.
  • Changes in taste sensation (rare).
  • Visual disturbances (rare).

Oral antifungals carry a small but serious risk for dangerous side effects, which can include:

  • Liver damage. During oral antifungal treatment, your doctor may require blood tests to check your kidney and liver function. Be aware of the symptoms of liver problems, such as nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain; dark urine; and changes in skin colour.
  • Heart failure. In the early stages of heart failure, many people do not notice symptoms. If you have heart problems or are concerned about this rare side effect, talk to your doctor about taking a medicine with a lower risk for this problem.

Oral antifungal medicines pass into breast milk. If you are pregnant, could become pregnant, or are breast-feeding, talk with your doctor before you take these medicines.

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

What To Think About

Tell your doctor about other medicines you are taking. Some medicines are not safe to take together with oral antifungals.

Do not drink alcohol while taking oral antifungals. Some forms of these medicines can cause or contribute to liver problems, which alcohol can make worse. During oral antifungal treatment, you may need to have blood tests to check your liver and kidney function.

If you use an antacid, wait at least 2 hours before taking ketoconazole. Antacids reduce ketoconazole absorption from the stomach into the bloodstream.

Oral antifungals cost more than non-prescription antifungal skin medicine.

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



  1. Fuller LC (2010). Tinea pedis and skin dermatophytosis. In MG Lebwohl et al., eds., Treatment of Skin Disease, 3rd ed., pp. 740–742. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Randall D. Burr, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised August 10, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.