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Corns and calluses: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

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Seek medical advice if:

  • You cut a corn or callus and cause it to bleed. The break in the skin invites infection.
  • A corn discharges pus or clear fluid, which means it may be infected or ulcerated. Both conditions require prompt medical attention.
  • You develop a corn and you have diabetes, heart disease or other circulatory problems. You run a high risk of developing an infection.

How do I know if I have a corn or a wart?

To find out whether a hard patch of skin is a corn or a wart, your doctor will examine the affected area. Warts are viral and often have black dots present in the affected skin. They also require specific treatment. Most calluses are corrected by a variety of measures, including a change in shoes, trimming of the calluses and sometimes surgery.

What are the treatments for corns and calluses?

Most corns and calluses gradually disappear when the friction or pressure stops, although your doctor may shave the top of a callus to reduce the thickness. Properly positioned moleskin pads can help relieve pressure on a corn. There are also special corn and callus removal liquids and plasters, usually containing salicylic acid, but these are not suitable for everyone.

Oral antibiotics generally clear up infected corns, but pus may have to be drained through a small incision.

Moisturising creams may help soften the skin and remove cracked calluses. Apply the moisturising cream to the callus, and cover the area for 30-60 minutes with a plastic bag or a sock - but only if instructed to do so by your doctor or podiatrist.

Then gently rub off as much of the callus as you can with a coarse towel or soft brush. Using a pumice stone first to rub off the dead skin from a callus after a bath or shower and then applying moisturising cream can also be effective.

There are also stronger creams containing urea that might be more effective, but do not use these unless recommended by your doctor or podiatrist. Do not use hydrocortisone creams, which only help with rashes and itching and are not needed for calluses. Moisturising your skin incorrectly can aggravate a fungal condition and should be avoided - especially moisturising between the toes.

You may consider surgery to remove a plantar callus, but there are no guarantees that the callus will not come back. A conservative approach is best initially. Keep your feet dry and friction-free. Wear properly fitted shoes and cotton socks, rather than wool or synthetic fibres that might irritate the skin.

If a podiatrist (a foot specialist) or orthopaedic specialist (a bone and joint specialist) thinks your corn or callus is caused by abnormal foot structure, your walking motion or hip rotation, orthopaedic shoe inserts or surgery to correct foot deformities may help correct the problem.

WebMD Medical Reference

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