There’s nothing worse than getting amped up for a cathartic run set to great tunes, only to have your earbuds pop out (repeatedly) before you even make it to the halfway point. And making sure those music blasters fit properly isn’t just crucial in terms of beating exercise boredom—it’s also important for your ear health.
Most earbuds are one-size-fits-all, but that doesn’t mean they actually fit all workout warriors. They’re designed to be positioned perfectly inside the ear, but the sizes and shapes of ear canals differ from person to person, and men’s are often larger than women’s. And, beyond ill-fitting ‘buds disrupting your reps, they could cause damage to your ears and hearing.
Erich Voigt, MD, told Self that using earbuds that are too tight can cause pain, while keeping a pair that are too loose can cause scratches or infections in the ear canal due to shoving them in deeper than they should be.
“If your ear canal is ‘too big,’ then there’s nothing for the earbuds to sit against, so they’ll fall out very easily,” Dr. Voigt said. “And if the ear canal is ‘too small,’ the earbud won’t be able to go in deep enough to fit properly, so it can pop out.”
So how can you tell if they definitely don’t fit? Check for earwax.
If you need help knowing whether your pair belongs in the trash rather than in your ears, there’s a simple (and admittedly icky) way to tell: Take them out and check to see if they’re covered in earwax. If they are, that’s one sign they’re probably not fitting correctly. According to Dr. Voight, in this case, your ears are likely too packed with wax, and trying to make the earbuds fit will only push the wax in farther. Don’t try and clean your ears with a Q-tip, though; let your body clean itself naturally.
Sure, earbuds can be an annoyance, but once you find a great fit, you’re golden. And if you’re totally over the one-size-fits-all gamble, give the custom-fit option a try, or go for a completely different model: An over-the-ear style that’ll help you minimize the risk of hearing loss by allowing you to play music at a lower volume, farther from your ear canal.