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Treating Corns Wrong Could Lead to Serious Problems

Treating Corns Wrong Could Lead to Serious Problems

Deidre writes:  I tried to get rid of two corns, one on each of my second toes. First, by using a drugstore corn remover medication and then with a tca peel. Now both my toes are extremely darker than all the other toes (my toes look burnt) and the corns are still there. I now wear better shoes and i scrub it everyday, but nothing.

Dr. Nirenberg replies:

A corn on our toe or between our toes can be very painful, and can interfere with our ability to walk normally. However, corn remover products are not always the best solution and may, in fact, prove harmful.

When a corns forms on our toe it is usually the result of an abnormality or misalignment of the bones inside the toe. The bone under the area of the corn may be abnormal and may have a spur or some other kind of growth, or the toe itself may be bending (contracting) and you may have a mallet toe or hammertoe deformity. A deformity of the toe or misalignment of the bones causes pressure on the skin from within and rather than the skin breaking open, it toughens and forms the corn (to protect it). A hammertoe (or mallet toe) is the number one cause of corns on the toes. Often patients may have several hammertoes, but not all of them will have a corn.

Corns can also form in response to pressure from outside our foot, such as when a tight-fitting shoe rubs on the toe. Again, the skin will toughen and the corn will protect the skin from the opening.

Many drugstore remedies for corns use a medicated solution to soften and remove the corn. These “medications” are usually an acid that burns away the corn. Putting acid on a corn (or burning the corn) will make the corn look burnt, as you describe. The problem is, if you use too much acid it can burn through the skin. In my podiatry practice, I have even seen patients put on so much acid that it burned to bone and/or caused infection or gangrene. Some patients have needed the toe amputated. Essentially, the acid does not stop after destroying the corn and goes through the good tissue, resulting in gangrene or infection in the toe or worse, the bone.

The other problem with using these remedies is that the patient is not addressing the corn’s cause: the bone. At best, the acid is briefly alleviating the corn. Without addressing the bone beneath the corn, the corn is likely to return. For all these reasons, I advise patients never to use drugstore medications for corns.

Whether your corns are due to hammertoes, mallet toes, spurs or other bone problems, you do not have to live with them.

The best treatment for corns is to pad them with moleskin, wear loose fitting shoes and have a good podiatrist examine your foot. The podiatrist will take an x-ray and you will immediately see how the bone is causing the painful corn or corns. From there, the doctor will explain the treatment options for the corn.

Additional Information:


Mayo Clinic


  • Chicago Podiatric Surgeons

    Always consult your local podiatrist in cases like this. Supervised treatment is relatively short and very effective in comparison to home methods or doing it yourself with just the help of you pharmacist.

  • Chicago Podiatrist

    In agreement with Dr. Nirenberg, moleskin is the most useful treatment readily available, having your podiatrist examine the cause of the corn is the best long term solution

  • cy

    What if you know it’s from wearing shoes that were too small for too long? Are they okay then?