By Karen Borta, CBS 11 NewsBy Karen Borta

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Imagine having a high-pitched ringing sound in your ears all day long, every day. Well, for an estimated 50 million Americans, that ringing is a reality. Many people experience a ringing in the ears from time to time, but some people suffer from the condition continually. This is known as tinnitus.

“We listen to it for a while and it’s not bad,” said Anne Howell, a hearing specialist at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at UT Dallas. “But when you think about it going on in your head day after day, it gets really annoying after a very short period of time.”

Tinnitus can really impact the quality of one’s life, Howell said, leading to anxiety and sleeplessness. “You’re trying to get to sleep,” she said, “but again, in your head or in your ears, you’re hearing this constant sound going on, and there’s nothing really to distract your attention from it.”

Howell has suffered from tinnitus throughout her entire life. She wants others to know that there are ways to manage the ringing. One of those ways is through sound therapy. “Either through ear-worn devices that create a sound to help disrupt the sensation of the tinnitus, or hearing aids if a patient has both hearing loss and tinnitus,” Howell explained.

Lisa Meehan is one of those patients who has both hearing loss and tinnitus, after waking up one morning five years ago with the constant ringing sound in her ear. The ringing never went away. “I went through a period of time where I couldn’t read. It was difficult to concentrate,” Meehan said. “It was a slow process of accepting the fact that I’m going to have to learn to do these things, even with the noise.”

Through sound therapy and a special hearing aid, Meehan now has a choice of sounds that she can listen to instead of the high-pitched ringing, such as musical tones. The idea is to keep patients from focusing on the noise, and instead training their brains to tune out the sound.

Patients can develop tinnitus for no apparent reason, but there are several definite contributors. It should go without saying that noise exposure is one of the primary causes for tinnitus. It is recommended that you use earplugs around loud noises. Other contributors include stress and certain medications.

Also, according to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus has now become the number one disability for U.S. troops returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of this, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense are now funding research for treatments.