If you have a skin growth or bump on your foot, you might wonder whether it’s a wart or a corn.

Both can develop on the feet. Because of their similar appearance, even doctors have trouble telling the difference. But despite their similarities, warts and corns aren’t the same.

Here’s how to tell them apart, as well as tips on how to treat and prevent both.

So, how can you tell the difference? The distinction lies in how these skin growths look, where they appear, and their primary cause.

What is a wart?

Warts are small skin growths that can form on the feet, but this isn’t the only place you’ll find one. They can appear anywhere on the body. The most common areas are the hands and fingers, according to Mayo Clinic.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes warts. It’s a contagious virus that spreads from person to person through direct and indirect contact.

Interestingly, some warts don’t immediately develop after exposure to the virus. Sometimes it can take up to 6 months after exposure for one to appear.

Also, not everyone exposed to the virus develops a wart. If you have a strong immune system, your body might be able to fight off the virus.

Some warts can look like a corn, in that they’re small, flesh colored, and rough to the touch. A key difference, though, is that warts appear grainy, too, and have black dots or pinpoints sprinkled around them.

Warts can be painful and develop in clusters, yet they’re harmless and gradually disappear on their own.

What is a corn?

A corn is a thick layer of skin that develops from constant friction and pressure. That’s why they often develop on the toes and feet.

While warts have a grainy, fleshly appearance with black pinpoints, corns look more like a raised, hard bump surrounded by dry, flaky skin.

Another important difference is that corns aren’t caused by a virus, nor are they contagious.

You can get a corn from wearing shoes that are too tight, since it causes too much pressure. Or you can get a corn from wearing shoes that are too loose, since that causes your feet to constantly slide within the shoe.

Similarities and differences

Warts and corns are similar in that they both:

  • appear as small, rough skin growths
  • can appear on hands and feet
  • are painful and tender to the touch

Warts and corns are different in the following ways:

can appear anywhere on the body

only appear on the feet
have grainy bumps with black pinpointsare hard, raised, and flaky
are caused by a virusare caused by friction and pressure

Warts don’t usually require treatment and go away on their own. But, just as it can take 6 months for one to appear, it can take almost as long for one to disappear — sometimes as long as 1 to 2 years.

To get rid of a painful wart sooner, you can use an over-the-counter wart removal product. These are available as a patch, liquid, or ointment. They help soften and dissolve the wart.

If these products don’t work, your doctor might recommend a prescription-strength wart remover. They may also suggest other therapies, such as:

One home remedy for wart removal is using duct tape, although this method has mixed reviews with regard to effectiveness.

To try this method, cover a wart with duct tape for about a week. After removing the duct tape, soak the wart in water, and then use a pumice stone to gently file away the dead tissue.

To treat a corn, the first thing you’ll need to do is stop the cause of constant friction and pressure. Start wearing shoes that fit properly.

Try using shoe inserts or pads inside your shoes to provide extra cushion and reduce irritation.

Other self-care methods include soaking your feet in water to soften the corn, and then gently filing down the skin with a pumice stone.

You can also apply moisturizer to your feet to improve dryness or flakiness around a corn.

If a painful corn doesn’t improve with home treatment, your doctor can remove the skin growth during an in-office visit.

Anybody can develop a wart or a corn, yet certain people appear to have a greater risk.

Since a virus causes warts, having a weak immune system can make you susceptible to these growths. Those at risk include:

  • children
  • young adults
  • those living with chronic conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV

Risk factors for a corn include wearing ill-fitting shoes or having a bone deformity in your feet, like a bunion or hammer toe. This can cause your toes to rub against each other or on the sides of your shoes.

Preventing warts

To prevent a wart, avoid direct contact with the virus. Don’t hold or shake hands with people who have warts. Avoid using personal care items of people who have warts, such as nail clippers, nail files, or pumice stones.

If you have a wart, don’t pick at it or bite your fingernails. This can potentially spread the virus to other parts of your body.

Preventing corns

To prevent a corn, make sure your shoes fit properly. You should be able to wiggle your toes in your shoes. If not, the shoes are too tight.

If your feet slide in your shoes, this means they’re too big and you need a smaller pair.

Although a wart and a corn can have similar appearances, they’re two different types of skin growths.

Understanding the differences between these two growths not only provides clues on how to treat them, it also helps you determine whether you have HPV. If you do, you can take steps to manage your symptoms and prevent transmission.