Use a prefilter sponge and that should help keep the sand out of it.
The filter I have used and worked the best with fine sand was the Aqueon HOB
, I have tried a walmart cheapie and it didn't last but a week and also a Maineland one started rattling and only lasted a few months.
Also I have a AC
110 now on a different tank (sand is a little more coarse/heavy) and a prefilter and it has been fine since the beginning of the year.
I usually unplug the filter when I am pouring water in, adjusting the decor, etc. Just remember to plug it back in!!!