Corn Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Why is the word for a “cereal plant that yields large grains, or kernels, set in rows on a cob” the same word that describes a “small, painful area of thickened skin on the foot, especially on the toes, caused by pressure?” This article does not have the answer to that question, but it will discuss corns of the feet, why they develop, and how you can treat them and prevent them from coming back.

Corn Symptom Checker

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is A Corn?

Summary

A corn is an area of well-circumscribed hyperkeratosis. Hyperkeratosis is the medical term for thickening of the outer layer of the skin. A protein called keratin proliferates in the skin as a protective mechanism against rubbing, pressure and other forms of irritation.

Corns are the accumulation of this keratin protective layer and usually look like small to medium-sized raised bumps on the toes and feet. Soft corns occur between the toes, and hard corns occur on the exposed upper surface of the toes [1]. It is important to differentiate a corn from a callus. A callus is a more diffuse (spread out) area of hyperkeratosis, whereas a corn is a more defined, focal area of hyperkeratosis [2].

Technically, corns can affect people of any age or gender, but reports show that people of older age groups and females have slight predominance.

Corns are preventable, but we all have bad habits that put us at greater risk for their development. Furthermore, corns are treatable, but most often, people ignore the symptoms until progression is advanced and treatment is more difficult.

Recommended care

Corn Symptoms

Main symptoms

The main symptom of corns is pain. Pain that progresses and becomes more severe with activities such as standing, walking, running, and wearing too-tight shoes – any activity that bears weight on the corn and the area around it. Interestingly, corns are not painful to the touch unless pressure is exerted perpendicularly to the corn when it contacts a bony prominence.

Other symptoms

A corn may also result in associated symptoms including:

  • Swelling
  • Redness or warmth
  • Dryness or scaling
  • Blistering
  • Bleeding
  • Itching

Differential diagnosis

Corns are sometimes difficult to distinguish from other bumps that can occur on the feet such as plantar warts or other dermatologic conditions. Corns are usually flesh-colored, dry, and hard with a whitish center (called the core). Other conditions your healthcare provider will consider include neuromas, fungal infections, and other types of keratosis.

Corn Causes

To understand how corns form, it is important to understand the different components of the skin. The skin is the largest and often heaviest organ of the body and has multiple components. The skin has three layers known as the:

  • Epidermis: This is the outermost layer of the skin visible to the eye. It contains specialized cells responsible for pigmentation of the skin (melanocytes), protecting the skin (Langerhans cells), and allowing the skin to feel pressure (Merkel cells). This is also the layer of the skin where keratin is localized.
  • Dermis: This is the middle layer of the skin. It contains a network of tough but elastic collagen fibers that make the skin strong but also stretchy, and a network of nerves and blood vessels that allow passage of nutrients and oxygen. The dermis also contains sweat glands.
  • Subcutis/Subcutaneous layer: This is the deepest layer of skin, which contains fat and connective disuse. It acts as a shock absorber and insulator and produces hormones like vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

See this image here for a visual representation of the layers of the skin.

As mentioned, corns occur due to accumulation of keratin as a protective layer (hyperkeratosis) against sin breakage and infection. The skin has this protective body reaction against pressure.

Pressure

This is the primary and foremost cause of corns on the feet.

  • Pressure: From shoes to the ground and even socks, the feet are exposed constantly to things that cause friction and increased pressure. As a protective mechanism, the skin hardens and thickens develops corns.
  • Trauma: Traumatic injury to the foot can result in bruising, irritation, and also fracture and deformity. Corns can develop over bony prominences and deformities of the foot after trauma to prevent further ulceration.

Corn Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out if your symptoms point to a corn

Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Corns

Treatment

Treatment for corns are surgical in nature and involve invasive or noninvasive removal of the bump. Treatment for corns is usually only indicated if they are causing medical symptoms (severe pain counts) or distress to the patient; however, removal for cosmetic reasons can happen as well. Surgical options include:

  • Medication: There are topical medications that can melt keratosis in a way and soften corns that are small. These include salicylic acid and silver nitrate.
  • Cryosurgery: the application of extreme cold to destroy and remove diseased tissue
  • Electrodesiccation: the use of an electric current to remove skin lesions
  • Shave excision: the use of a sharp razor with or without an electrode to feather the edges of a lesion to make it smaller or less noticeable
  • Scissors: At times, the solution is to simply cut off the lesion/bump with surgical scissors.

Prevention

True treatment of corns starts with prevention. Try these strategies at home to prevent the formation of corns.

  • Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes: Tight shoes and high heels can compress and further irritate pre-existing corns. Eliminating friction and pressure on these outgrowths can help make them stop growing and even disappear.
  • Keep your toenails trimmed: Toenails that are too long can force the toes to push up against your shoe, causing a corn to form over time. To remove this pressure, keep your toenails trimmed [3].

When to Seek Further Consultation for Corns

Seek medical care immediately if:

  • Any part of your foot appears deformed
  • You cannot bear weight or walk on your foot.
  • You notice bruising or tenderness to touch around the ankle area.
  • Persistent swelling and pain
  • The foot becomes numb and turns white or pink.

These symptoms may be related to a fracture resulting in decreased blood flow to the toes and/or feet.