Corns are areas of hard, thickened skin that usually develop on the foot. Unlike warts, which are caused by a virus, corns develop when the skin is exposed to excessive pressure or rubbing. The thickened skin can become painful and unsightly, but there are lots of easy ways to deal with it.

What causes corns?

The most common reason for developing corns is wearing shoes that don't fit well. Shoes that are too loose can rub against the skin and cause a corn to develop. If you wear shoes that put a lot of pressure on one part of the foot – such as high-heeled shoes that squeeze the toes – this can also lead to corns.

If you have feet that are naturally very bony, you may be more prone to corns simply because your feet don't have much cushioning.

If you have a bunion (a painful swelling on the first joint of the big toe) or a hammer toe (a toe that stays permanently bent downwards) you're also more likely to develop corns. That's because these conditions affect the shape of your foot and may make it harder to find shoes that fit well.

Treating corns

There are ways you can treat corns yourself, such as: 

Reducing pressure on your feet

Before treating a corn, it's important to understand and fix what caused it to develop in the first place. Make sure you're wearing shoes that fit well and distribute the pressure evenly throughout your foot. This may mean you need to stop wearing high-heeled shoes.

To help improve the fit of your shoes you can consider padded shoe inserts such as insoles, heel or toe cushions or toe wedges. Your pharmacist can advise which ones may be suitable for you.

Softening the thickened skin

Specialist foot rehydration creams can help to soften the thickened skin. Talk to your pharmacist for advice.

Removing the thickened skin

Products containing salicylic acid are designed to soften the top layer of thickened skin so it can be more easily removed with a pumice stone or foot file. It’s important to follow the product instructions carefully.

These products aren't suitable if you have:

• Diabetes or circulation problems

• Cracked or broken skin around the corn

If you're not sure whether a product is suitable for you, talk to your pharmacist for advice.

When to seek medical advice

If your corns don’t improve, are causing you significant pain, or if over-the-counter treatments aren't suitable for you, see your Doctor. They may refer you to a specialist like a podiatrist or chiropodist.

If you have a corn that becomes swollen, reddened and painful, or that oozes clear liquid or pus, see your Doctor immediately, as you might have an infection. This may require treatment with antibiotics.

Next steps

• As well as treating a corn, it's important to correct the cause. Switch to comfortable footwear that fits well and supports the whole foot

• You can consider padded inserts for your shoes to help distribute pressure more easily throughout your foot

• Ask your pharmacist for advice on medicines used to help treat corns and for pain relief