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How does clotrimazole work?

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How it worksSide effectsHow long it takesSummary
Clotrimazole works by stopping fungus from growing. Depending on where you have a fungal infection, clotrimazole might work within a few days or up to 4 weeks.
Medically reviewed by Ami Patel PharmD, BCPS
Written by Cathy Lovering
Updated on

Clotrimazole is an antifungal medication, which means it stops fungus from growing. Doctors therefore prescribe it for infections caused by fungus, such as athlete’s foot. 

You can buy clotrimazole over the counter (OTC), or a doctor may prescribe it. There are different clotrimazole products depending on the location of the fungal infection you want to treat. 

It’s a good idea to follow the package directions when you use vaginal clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin) or topical clotrimazole (Lotrimin). The treatment time might be as short as a few days or as long as a few weeks.

Alternatives to clotrimazole include other topical and oral antifungal medicines.

How does it work? 

An adult applying clotrimazole cream to their chest.
Guille Faingold/Stocksy United

Clotrimazole works by stopping the hormone within the fungal cell that causes the fungus to grow. The drug’s activity is dose-dependent, which means how it works depends on the dose you take.

At the same time, you want to make sure you are not using too much or this will increase your chance of side effects. So, it’s very important to take the medication according to the packaging or as your doctor instructs.

It usually works on different kinds of fungal infections caused by different types of fungus, including vaginal yeast infections caused by a fungus called candida albicans, athlete’s foot caused by a group of fungi called dermatophytes, and ringworm caused by many different fungi, including trichophyton and microsporum.

Clotrimazole can come in cream form that you apply to the affected area or in oral tablet form that you dissolve in your mouth.

Clotrimazole has many different uses, so how you use it depends on the type of infection you have. If you’re using an OTC product, it’s a good idea to read the package insert and follow the directions.

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Vaginal yeast infections

Clotrimazole cream can be used to treat vaginal yeast infections, also known as candidiasis. You might apply it to the skin outside of the vagina, but some kinds are made to be inserted into the vagina.

Make sure you’re using the correct medication, and don’t put anything into the vagina if it isn’t indicated on the medication.

To put clotrimazole into the vagina:

  • fill the applicator with the clotrimazole cream
  • lie on your back with your knees apart
  • insert the applicator into the vagina
  • press the plunger to release the medication
  • remove the applicator

If you are using the clotrimazole cream on the skin outside of the vagina, apply a small amount to your finger and apply it to the area of the skin where you have symptoms. 

You apply this cream:

  • Twice daily for up to 7 days outside the vagina
  • Once daily at bedtime for 3–7 days inside the vagina

It’s a good idea to finish the course of clotrimazole even if you start to feel better.

Ringworm, jock itch, or athlete’s foot

Topical clotrimazole is a cream or solution used to treat fungal infections that cause a rash on the body, on the feet, between the toes, or in the groin and buttocks (known as jock itch). 

A doctor can prescribe a specific form that is targeted to the area of the body that’s affected, or you can look at the packaging if you’re looking for an OTC option.

To use topical clotrimazole:

  • wash and dry the area of skin with the infection
  • apply the clotrimazole cream or solution in a thin layer on the affected skin

A person usually applies clotrimazole two times a day, but it’s a good idea to follow the package directions or the advice of a doctor or pharmacist.

Oral candidiasis

Oral thrush, or candidiasis, is a fungal infection of your mouth that’s due to the same fungus that causes vaginal thrush.

Oral candidiasis is usually treated with troches, which are tablets that you dissolve in your mouth. Clotrimazole troches usually take up to 30 minutes to dissolve fully.

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Possible side effects

Vaginal, topical, and oral clotrimazole come with common side effects. You might want to seek medical attention if your side effects are severe.

Vaginal clotrimazole side effects include:

  • vaginal irritation
  • increased itching and burning

Topical clotrimazole side effects include:

  • hives
  • cracks in the skin
  • blistering or peeling
  • redness, swelling, or itching
  • burning or stinging

Oral clotrimazole side effects include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • itching in the mouth
  • an unpleasant feeling in the mouth

Using clotrimazole during pregnancy should be generally safe for the mother and baby, but you might want to see a doctor if you think you have a vaginal yeast infection or skin infection. Getting the right diagnosis increases the chances of getting the right treatment.

How long does it take to work? 

You should start to see improvement in your vaginal yeast infection symptoms within 3 days of starting clotrimazole. 

Improvement in jock itch symptoms might take up to 2 weeks. For other fungal skin infections like athlete’s foot and ringworm, symptoms should get better within 4 weeks.

Even if you no longer have symptoms, you should keep using the medication as long as directed. The fungus might still be on your skin even if you can no longer see a rash. 

A fungal infection can come back even after you have used the medication as directed and finished the course. You can take steps to prevent recurrence of a skin fungal infection by using an anti-dandruff shampoo on the skin area. You might also consider regular use of antifungal powder in your shoes or cream applied to the feet. 

Alternative medications

If you have a vaginal yeast infection, an alternative to vaginal clotrimazole is an oral fluconazole (Diflucan) tablet.

For hard-to-treat cases of athlete’s foot, a doctor might recommend an oral antifungal such as:

Other topical medicines for jock itch besides clotrimazole include:

  • butenafine (Mentax)
  • miconazole (Micatin)
  • sulconazole (Exelderm)

The oral and topical treatments for jock itch or athlete’s foot might also be recommended for ringworm.

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Clotrimazole is an antifungal medication that works at the cellular level to stop fungus from growing. It comes as a cream or liquid. Many clotrimazole products are available OTC for different uses. It’s important to use the drug as directed to prevent the fungal infection from coming back. 

If topical clotrimazole does not work, a doctor might prescribe a different topical or oral antifungal medication.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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