A callus is thickened skin that forms as a result of friction, pressure or other irritants. Calluses are most often found on the feet because of the repeated friction caused by walking. However, calluses can appear anywhere. Those who work excessively with their hands are at risk of developing calluses as well. While some people may perceive calluses as unsightly, they are not considered to be a health risk. However, if a callus is neglected for a long period of time, it may cause skin ulceration or infection.
Calluses are formed by accumulating terminally undifferentiated keratinocytes in the outer layer of skin. Although the skin cells that make up a callus are dead, they can be very difficult to remove because of the extensive network of proteins and hydrophobic keratin-containing a variety of disulfide bonds. If the friction endured by the skin occurs very quickly, the skin will not have the time to create a protective callus, so a blister or abrasion will result in its place.
While any activity that causes repeated rubbing on the surface of your skin may cause a callus, some activities are more likely to cause calluses than others including; construction work, sports, playing musical instruments, rock climbing, weight training, martial arts, wood carving, chopping wood and others. While all of these activities can generate enough friction over time to result in calluses, friction is not the only cause of hand calluses.
Some toxins can cause calluses as well, such as arsenic. Additionally, some diseases can create the same effect, such as syphilis. Alternatively, it is also possible to develop calluses or corns on non-weight bearing skin surfaces, free of toxins and disease such as between the fingers, under fingernails and on the knuckles of the hand. This can be caused by overexposure to the sun, effects of aging on the skin or hormonal changes in the body.
Calluses typically resolve themselves once the offending irritant has been removed. However, if a callus becomes painful there are treatment options available to alleviate any painful side effects. Keratolytic agents containing salicylic acid can dissolve the mound of dead skin, making it easier to remove the excess. Additionally, sanding the area with pumice or silicon carbide sandpaper can also work to remove the excess one layer at a time. However, if attempting to remove the callus becomes painful, or the callus begins to bleed at any point, you should consult a physician such as a dermatologist to pare down the affected area.
If you are unsure whether you are suffering from calluses or warts, it is important to seek advice from a medical professional before treating the surface of the skin at home. While warts can look very similar to calluses, they are caused by a viral infection that must be treated accordingly. Sanding or trimming warts at home will lead to bleeding and will make your skin more susceptible to infection.
People with diabetes face unique challenges when caring for their skin because diabetes may affect the capillaries (or small blood vessels) responsible for providing ample blood flow to all layers of the skin. When the presence of calluses interferes with the function of the capillaries, it is difficult for the body to provide ample nutrition to the skin. Because of this, calluses are seen in higher numbers in the population of people suffering from diabetes. On occasion, bleeding within calluses is recognized as an early sign of diabetes before troubling blood sugar levels are identified. Untreated calluses resulting in infections of the skin will likely lead to skin ulcerations or infections. Unfortunately, it is these infections that typically result in limb amputation in diabetics.
Calluses and corns can be prevented by protecting the areas of the skin that are most susceptible to stress. Any gloves should be properly fitted to lessen the risk of rubbing during work. Also, protective pads or bandages may be placed on the site of a forming callus to prevent further irritation and growth.
When not working, it is important to provide the exposed skin with plenty of moisturizers to keep the skin supple and maintain skin elasticity. To protect skin from the harsh rays of the sun, sunscreen should be applied at least half an hour before working in the sun and reapplied during the duration of the day. If you notice a callus beginning to form via the buildup of tough, thick skin, address the issue before the callus forms by soaking the area in warm, soapy water for ten to 15 minutes then gently scrubbing away any rough or damaged skin from the area with an abrasive body scrub. For those who work in high-contact professions, adding this to your daily shower routine can keep calluses at bay.
If you find that your calluses are reappearing after treatment in the same location, it is likely an environmental irritant such as outerwear or repetitive movement is causing the callus to reform. If this is the case, it is important to take notice of any irritants in your daily activities and alleviate them. In some cases, bandages that include cushions to protect the skin may add some much-needed protection.
If a callus presents with no clear indication of cause, it is best to seek advice from a medical professional. Because an invading foreign body, such as a splinter, can create a callus-like effect as the surrounding skin attempts to purge the material it is common for splinters to be mistaken for calluses, resulting in improper care. While splinters, and subsequent skin problems, are typically harmless, they can become ideal breeding grounds for serious infections like staph infections as they offer direct contact to the bloodstream.
If a corn or callus begins to show signs of infection, it is vital to seek medical care as soon as possible. Infections in the skin can present as a release of fluid or pus from the affected area, darkening of the skin, whelps, rashes or acne-like breakouts surrounding the affected tissue.
There are some medical conditions that make people more susceptible to skin infections than others. These conditions include diabetes, heart disease, along with any other condition affecting the circulatory system. If you have any of these medical conditions, it's best practice to have a medical professional examine any calluses that may present, regardless of the presence of additional symptoms, to lessen the chance of infection.
As with any problem of the skin, it's vital not to pick at any presenting calluses. Picking may cause bleeding or infection, causing an otherwise harmless skin abrasion to require medical attention. Additionally, hand calluses are the skin's effort to protect itself as it adds layers of tough skin on top of areas that require the most protection. Picking or otherwise irritating these calluses can cause them to become tougher, larger and thicker as your skin attempts to protect itself from an increasingly aggressive irritant.