For anyone who likes to wear earbuds while running, biking, and dancing or any physical activity, there is nothing worse than that moment when you feel one start to slip out of your ear. Before you know it, you are reaching up to plug those buds back into your ear almost every minute or so.
Whether it’s ill-fitting earbuds – one-size does not fit all – or slippage from sweat, this is a nuisance everyone would like to solve. Luckily, a few simple steps can make loose earbuds a thing of the past.
Why Earbuds Always Fall Out of Your Ears
Earbuds are designed to fit snug within the ear canal, the pathway from your outer ear to your middle ear, where sound waves travel before they strike your eardrum. The earbuds that come packed away in your smartphone package are built to fit the average human ear canal. The average human ear canal is about one-inch in length and a little over a quarter-inch in diameter.
Most ear canals are not of average size, however. The size of your ear canal, your friend’s ear canal and the ear canal of the person sitting next to you on the bus are all different. You might be close to average, but not exactly. That “exactly” is what makes all the difference.
If your ear canal is bigger than average, you are likely to find that your earbuds fall out very easily. If your ear canal is smaller the average, your earbuds are more likely to pop out because they cannot sit deep enough within your ear canal.
Size isn’t the only obstacle. Where your ears sit on your head can also cause a problem. Some people have ears that sit low and close to their temporomandibular joint. This is the hinge in your jaw that moves whenever you chew or chat. When your ears sit close to this joint, its movement can alter the shape of your ear canal and cause your earbuds to drop out of your ears. The shapeshifting can occur with the slightest movement, too, which is why your earbuds get loose whenever you lip sync to your favorite song.
Earwax can also cause trouble. A buildup of earwax around the earbud can loosen the sound machine or make it more difficult to place it in your ear canal. Worse, earbuds are notorious for pushing earwax deeper into the ear canal. Earwax acts as your body’s natural ear-cleaning mechanism, but when it is pressed into the ear canal and builds up against the eardrum, it can interfere with a person’s ability to hear.
How To Wear Earbuds Properly
If you are having trouble with your earbuds staying put, there are a few steps you can take to try to alleviate the problem. Give these a go before you move on to more drastic measures.
1. Grab Your Earlobe
If you suspect you have a smaller ear canal than average, try stretching your earlobe when inserting earbuds. This maneuver opens the ear canal a bit, providing a slightly wider opening. The ear canal should then wrap around the earbud and provide a snugger fit.
2. Don’t Throw the Accessories Away
It is possible your earbuds came with a set of accessories to help ensure a good fit and great sound, so do not throw them away before you try them. You may find they provide a better fit. Also, consider mixing and matching accessories. It is always possible that one of your ears is bigger than the other. Different sized tips on your earbuds may give you the best fit ever.
3. Avoid Cotton Swabs
Remember that your buds can push earwax deep into your ear canal and up against your eardrum, potentially causing both hearing problems and poor fitting earbuds. Using cotton swabs, like Q-tips, can cause the same problem. Using cotton swabs to remove earwax often has the opposite effect, pushing wax into the ear creating a blockage. If you think you may have a blockage, see your doctor
4. Get Some Third-Party Help
Most earbuds that come free with your smartphone do not include accessories to customize your fit. No worries. There are plenty of third-party companies that offer accessories and attachments to help you find the perfect fit.
5. Ditch the Free Buds
Another option is to toss the free earbuds that come with your phone and buy custom earbuds. Many manufacturers are now designing earpieces that come in different sizes, sometimes as simple as small, medium and large. Start with medium-sized earbuds and use the earlobe technique to assure a firm fit. Then dance around a bit to make sure the earpieces stay put. If there is any play, experiment with the smaller and larger earbuds to see if that makes any difference.
6. Try this Lifehack
Some wearers swear by a simple trick that helps earbuds stay put. By wrapping the earbud wire up around your ear, you create a makeshift hook that helps hold the bud in place, similar to athletic earbuds.
Why Wearing Earbuds Properly Is Important
While earbuds that fit improperly can cause soreness, scratch the ear canal, and, in some cases, even cause infection, hearing loss is the biggest health concern for anyone who regularly wears earbuds. There are ways to avoid injury, however.
First, do not worry about how deep your earbuds rest in your ear canal. Proximity to your eardrum is not a concern and can actually provide a better listening experience. The real culprit is sound volume.
Most earbuds will play sound at about 85 decibels. Some will go as high as 105 decibels. Long, repeated listening to audio above 85 decibels, however, can lead to hearing loss. Unfortunately, most devices do not come with a way to monitor decibels. You can somewhat circumvent this with a simple trick. If someone standing near you can hear the sound from your earbuds, the volume is too high.
Another way to know if you are playing your music to loud occurs when you pull out your earbuds. If you hear ringing in your ears or the environment sounds a bit muffled, that is a sure warning sign that you are damaging your hearing.
Most earbud wearers unwittingly cross the decibel threshold when they are wearing their earbuds in noisy places polluted with sound. Large crowds, heavy traffic, construction zones and more can entice earbud wearers to turn up the volume. While you might be able to hear your music, those sound waves are picking apart the fibers that make up your ability to hear.
To combat these situations, consider wearing earbuds that fit deep in your ear canal. The closer the earbud is to your eardrum, the better the sound quality and the lower the volume needs to be for you to hear the music.
Are There Different Earbud Types?
Beyond small, medium and large-sized earbuds, there are several other options you can choose to get a better fit or solve an earbud problem. The first involves seeing a specialist.
An audiologist can help you create custom-made earbuds. Typically, the audiologist will work side-by-side with a hearing aid company to make the earbuds. You may be able to choose between earbuds with a wire or specialized inserts that replace or fit over your regular pair. This choice can be a pricey one. Custom pairs can run from $100 to $250.
Designers built earbuds for athletes with ear hooks, which nearly eliminate the popping earbud problem. You do not have to be an athlete to buy a pair. Note that many athletic earbuds are built one-size-fits-all, so you may still encounter some slippage. The plastic hooks can also chafe after time.
Some manufacturers offer sweat-proof earbuds. Proprietary designs help keep earbuds from slipping out during exercise or other activities that promote perspiration. Waterproof earbuds can offer similar benefits. Just make sure those earbuds are International Protection (IP) certified for safety. There are also earbuds built specifically for swimming. If you are a swimmer and want to benefit from these buds, just make sure the earbuds are built for swimming and are not simply water resistant. Waterproof and water resistant are two different things.
If your earbuds fit fine, but you suffer from cord tugging – that moment when you turn your head the wrong way and the cord pulls your earbuds out of your head – wireless earbuds are an option. They can be a bit more expensive, but if you cannot stand the cords, they are well worth the investment.
Knowing how to wear earbuds doesn’t come naturally. Whatever the reason – ill-fitting earbuds, sweat-induced earbud loss or cord tugging – there are several ways you can alleviate loose earbuds. The trick is finding out why your earbuds are compelled to pop out of your ear canal in the first place.
Once you know the why, you can work on the how, whether that is finding the right size earbud to fit your ears or choosing a different earbud style altogether. The only thing to remember is to watch the volume when you listen. If they volume surpasses a certain decibel level, you could sustain hearing loss.