If you’re frequently on your feet, you may be familiar with calluses and corns on your feet. These are areas of thick, tough skin that develop to protect you from the pressure and friction your feet endure. For many people, calluses and corns are simply an inconvenience. Changing footwear or adding insoles or other padding may relieve the friction, and the thick spot eventually vanishes.
However, if you’re diabetic, you may have a condition called diabetic neuropathy, a disorder of the nerves in the feet that makes corn and callus care important. While still relatively minor problems, calluses and corns may sometimes develop complications.
If your neuropathy is sufficiently advanced, you may be unable to detect foot pain to alert you to a growing problem.
Identifying calluses and corns
Though caused by similar conditions, calluses and corns are not the same. Calluses tend to be larger and form on weight-bearing surfaces, such as the bottoms of toes or on the sole of your foot at the ball or heel. These are rarely painful, and their appearance is usually smooth, but a different, thicker texture than surrounding skin.
While corns can form on weight-bearing areas, it’s typical to find them on other parts of your feet. They may be painful when touched, and there’s often a hard center encircled by inflamed and irritated skin. The skin on both corns and calluses may have a dry or flaking appearance.
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The elevated levels of blood glucose present in your body can have serious effects on nerve endings in your feet, most often causing numbness, though some people can develop pain responses. In either case, your body no longer receives an appropriate sensory response due to damage to the local nerves.
Blood circulation may also be affected, and that’s crucial for your body’s natural maintenance tasks.
In normal situations, calluses and corns protect the areas of your feet that work hardest. This is also the case if you’re diabetic. However, since natural healing is impaired, the thicker skin of calluses and corns can sometimes hide foot ulcers. When these ulcers get infected, they may advance to the point where your foot is at risk.
Because a diabetic is more at risk from infections, home care of calluses and corns is different than what a non-diabetic can do.
Treatment of calluses and corns
Since calluses and corns can mask foot problems, it might seem logical to remove them when they develop. This is, however, not an easy task to accomplish at home with over-the-counter products.
Medicated pads or liquids designed to remove calluses and corns use acids as a dissolving agent. These acids don’t distinguish between dead and live skin, though. A healthy foot can handle damage to live skin, but a diabetic foot might not.
Non-medicated foot treatments such as files or pumice stones are also not a good idea. These aren’t sterile, and since they have the capability of abrading or breaking the skin, they could be an entryway for an infection that your foot isn’t ready to withstand.
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