Complications of athletes foot

As athlete’s foot is usually a mild infection, it rarely causes complications.

However, it's best to treat the infection as soon as you develop symptoms. This will minimise your risk of developing complications.

Some of the complications related to athlete’s foot are described below.

Fungal nail infection

If an athlete’s foot infection isn't treated, it may spread to your toenails. A fungal nail infection causes your nail to become thick, discoloured and crumbly. The skin beneath the nail may also be painful and inflamed.

Most fungal nail infections can be easily treated using antifungal medication. This is either taken orally or painted on to your nail using special antifungal nail paint. If it's not treated, a fungal nail infection can cause significant pain and discomfort, which may make it difficult to wear shoes or walk around.

Bacterial infection

If you have severe athlete’s foot, your skin may also be cracked, exposing the raw tissue underneath.

It's fairly rare for a fungal infection to affect exposed tissue because fungi usually only grow on the surface of the skin. However, as bacteria can thrive inside the body, they could cause a bacterial infection if they enter your body through cracked skin.


Bacteria release substances that break down skin and tissue. Once inside your body, bacteria can spread quickly and cause widespread infection. Left untreated, a bacterial infection can be very serious.

Cellulitis is caused by a bacterial infection of the deep layers of skin, fat and soft tissue. If it's not treated, cellulitis can lead to serious complications, such as blood poisoning (septicaemia), or the infection can spread to the bone.

The symptoms of cellulitis include a sore, red area of skin that's hot and tender to touch.

Cellulitis is a rare complication of athlete’s foot, but it should be treated quickly if it occurs. Most cases can be effectively treated using antibiotics.

Last revised: 16 January 2014

Next review: 16 January 2016

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