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What is Corns?

Corns are places on your body where the skin has been rubbed a lot. Corns usually have a hard center that is surrounded by inflamed skin. Corns can appear in areas that bear weight, or where there is pressure or friction. However, they will also appear on places of the body that don’t bear weight, like in between the toes, or on top of the foot.

Sometimes corns are called calluses [cal-US-es]. These two conditions are similar, but they are not the same. The main differences are:

  • Pain. Corns may be painful when they are pressed on, while calluses are usually not painful even when pressed.
  • Size. Calluses are usually larger than corns.
  • Location. Calluses usually only develop on places of the body that bear weight or get rubbed a lot, like the hand, fingers, toes, or feet.
  • Inflammation. Corns are surrounded by inflamed skin, but calluses usually don’t have this sign.

Corns can sometimes look ugly, and might even be embarrassing. However, if you are healthy, there is no treatment that is needed for corns. Most of the time, people will just stop or change whatever is causing the friction that is creating the corn, and the corn will go away.

If you have a medical condition that makes it harder to heal, you may have more complications from corns. If you have such a condition, make sure you talk to your doctor so they can help you make a plan for treatment.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice the symptoms of a corn, and you also feel a lot of pain or notice inflammation, you should see your doctor. If you have a condition like diabetes that causes poor blood flow, this can make corns a more serious problem, and you should see your doctor to make sure you get the right treatment.

Sometimes people will try to treat a corn on their own, but harsh chemicals found in over-the-counter medicines can lead to an infected sore.

Causes

Corns are caused by pressure or friction, usually from repeated rubbing. Sometimes corns can be caused by things like:

  • Poorly fitting shoes that slide on the foot and create unnecessary rubbing
  • Not wearing your socks correctly, so that the seam of the sock rubs on the foot
  • Playing instruments, like the guitar or other string instruments, can cause corns or calluses
  • Using hand tools
  • Writing
  • Some sports or other activities, such as rock climbing
  • Certain other medical conditions, such as bunions or hammertoes

Diagnosis and Tests

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to make sure there is no underlying condition that might be causing the hardened skin, like a wart or cyst. If your doctor thinks that a physical abnormality or some other condition is causing your corns, they may also request an x-ray to help find the cause of your problem.

Treatments

Most of the time, the best treatment for corns or calluses is to avoid or change the repetitive activity that has caused the condition, like wearing better shoes, or wearing gloves, if possible. A few other at-home treatments include:

  • Soaking the corns to help soften them so you can thin the thickened skin.
  • Thinning the thick skin with a washcloth. You can also try a pumice stone, or emery board, both of which can be purchased in the beauty section of most general stores. Do not use anything sharp to thin the skin as this can create a wound and lead to pain or infection. Also, do not use the pumice stone if you have diabetes.
  • Use lotion or other moisturizers, like coconut oil, on the corns.

If your self-treatment efforts don’t work, or if the corns become painful, you should talk to your doctor about:

  • Helping you remove the extra skin – do not try this on your own. If you make a mistake, it can lead to an infection.
  • Medicine that can help you get rid of the corns.
  • Shoe pads or other inserts that can help cushion your foot and stop the foot from rubbing so much.
  • Surgery, which usually only happens if the corns are caused by some other underlying condition, such as bunions, hammertoes, or other conditions that affect the alignment of your foot.

Prevention

Corns can be prevented by wearing properly-fitting shoes, or wearing gloves when using hand tools. You can also try over-the-counter pads to cushion areas that often rub.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of corns or calluses happen on the skin. If you have a corn or callus, you might notice:

  • A hard, raised bump especially on the hands, feet, toes, or fingers
  • Tenderness or pain under the skin
  • A thick, rough patch of skin
  • Flaky, dry skin
  • A patch of skin that looks like dried wax

Although similar, corns and calluses are not the same thing.