There can be many reasons that a pair of headphones only play audio out of one ear. The most common reason for sound to only come out of one side is the wires near the audio jack have gotten bent back and forth so many times that it has caused a short in the wiring.

There’s a difference between headphones breaking and headphones breaking all the time. If your headphones break every 2 years, you really have nothing to worry about. That’s just entropy in action. But if your headphones are breaking every three months, you’re likely doing something wrong. If that describes you, then here are some red flags you should be looking out for.

Improper Care & Protection

The first, and most obvious, reason for frequent headphone breakage: not taking care of them. “Just take care of your headphones” might be nothing more than sheer common sense, but you’d be surprised how often we (myself included) overlook the simple fact that we’re abusing our headphones day in and day out. Some headphones may be built for durability, but each headphone still has its own breaking point.

One of the biggest problems with headphones? Forgetting that I have them on. We’ve all been there when someone wants us to come downstairs (or upstairs), or we get up to use the bathroom, only to have the headphone cable snap them off our heads and they crash to the floor. You may accidentally roll over your headphone cable with your wheeled office chair.

Headphones are more than just speakers and padding. They contain a good deal of intricate wiring and electronics, like drivers that translate electrical signals into quality sound, so take care of them. Treat them well and they’ll last you a long while.

Poor Storage Methods

This may go in line with “improper care” but I think it’s important enough to warrant its own special section. Even the most expensive headphones will experience general wear and tear over time regardless of how well you work to prevent physical damage. This wear and tear will have an even greater impact on cheaper headphones.

Where does most of this wear and tear occur? The cable. Don’t wind up your cables into a tight loop or a ball. For example, I see a lot of people who wind their earbuds tight around their iPods when they aren’t actively listening. This may be convenient for fitting into your pocket, but the tightness causes undue stress to the internal wiring, which leads to fraying.

Similarly, don’t let your earbuds or headphones dangle. Ever. The dangling causes a lot of stress at one particular point in the cable. Plus, it increases the chance that the cable will be pinched, which can sever the internal wire. Think of it like a staple: if you keep bending it back and forth, it’s eventually going to break.

Poor Storage Locations

A point that may be equally as important as proper cable management is putting your headphones in their proper place when you aren’t using them. In other words, a safe place.

Back in high school and through college, I used to toss my earbuds (and sometimes my headphones) straight into my backpack between classes. It’s no wonder that I would quickly lose audio in one ear, rendering them useless within months. Along the same lines, if you bunch up your earbuds and stuff them into your pocket, you’re doing a ton of damage that will eventually catch up to you.

For earbuds, you can purchase cases that will keep them safe so you can put them pretty much anywhere. For headphones, your choices are far more limited. As long as you’re keeping them in a spot where they won’t face too much abrasion, jostling, or physical damage, you should be good.