When John Snow developed a whistling sound in his right ear, his GP blamed an infection that had left his eardrum inflamed and partly blocked his hearing.
He was prescribed antibiotic drops and told the irritating noise would disappear within a few days, once the infection subsided.
But when his ear did finally heal about a week later and his hearing had fully returned, 55-year-old John, from Little Canfield near Stansted in Essex, could still detect the relentless din.
'It was a high-pitched whistling, and although I could hear it during the day, I particularly noticed it when I was trying to get to sleep at night,' says the father-of-two.
'Some nights I would just lie there unable to drop off.'
John had become one of the estimated five million Britons who suffer from tinnitus, a condition characterised by noise in the ears (often described as buzzing, whistling, humming or ringing) which has no obvious cause.
What began as a minor irritation eventually took over his life as, for the next six years, John struggled to cope with the effects it had on his sleep, concentration and mood.
'I have a stressful job as a primary school head teacher and the less sleep I got, the worse I felt,' he says. 'I was taking sleeping pills, becoming short-tempered, moody and struggling to cope with the pressures of work. I started to feel that it was ruining my life.
'After a year or so, it got even worse - the high-pitched whistle changed into a sound I can only describe as being like Morse code, a permanent bleeping noise that I could hear all the time. It was horrific.'
But thanks to a new form of treatment, John's life is no longer dominated by the noises in his ear. Called mindful meditation, it works by training the brain to come to terms with the tinnitus, unlike other techniques that teach it to avoid the problem.
The technique is already effectively used to treat anxiety and depression. Its use for tinnitus is based on scans that show when the brain tries to shut out the relentless humming, this causes increased brainwave activity.
In other words, the more the brain tries to fight the problem, the more it 'tunes into' it.
The meditation technique, however, teaches patients to regularly stop and confront their thoughts and worries about the noise - and this appears to have the opposite effect.
It seems the brain gradually comes to terms with the tinnitus and stops focusing on it so much. By 'detuning' in this way, the patient begins to notice the problem less and less.
Psychologists and hearing specialists pioneering the therapy insist that it's not a cure for the underlying nerve damage in the inner ear that is responsible for tinnitus.
This damage - which can be caused by a cold, an ear infection or exposure to loud music - triggers an abnormal stream of impulses the brain interprets as constant sound.
But there is evidence that the new therapy may, over time, lead to changes in brain function that mean the patient eventually doesn't notice the tinnitus.
Many of us suffer temporary tinnitus that lasts no more than a few hours, often from a cold or from going to a loud concert. But for around one in 100 people, it becomes a long-term affliction.
Treatments include counselling, relaxation techniques to ease the stress that can make it worse and sound therapy, where patients listen to background noise, such as gentle music, waves crashing on a shore or even the hum of traffic, to distract them from the tinnitus.
But while most of these treatments depend on distracting the brain from the problem, some experts believe therapies that confront the problem may be more effective.
Mindful meditation is one of these techniques. It's similar to traditional forms of meditation, in that the technique involves relaxation, deep breathing and focusing on the rise and fall of the chest and stomach.
But instead of 'emptying' the mind, patients are taught to actually 'observe' their thoughts, including their worries about tinnitus.
Our brains are constantly evaluating noise in order to work out which sounds are significant, or threatening, and which ones can be ignored.
When the brain is under stress, it is more likely to evaluate unimportant sounds as threatening. But by learning to accept that it's natural to have troublesome thoughts about the condition, the theory is that the brain learns, in turn, that there's no need to perceive these sounds as threatening.
In short, it is being 'reconditioned' to accept tinnitus as normal.
'Our aim is to help people acknowledge that they have the condition, that it won't cause them to lose their hearing and that what they can hear is actually harmless neuronal activity in the pathway from the ear to the brain,' says Jo Blaquiere, hearing therapist at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London, which has pioneered use of the therapy over the past two years.
'It's not for everyone,' she adds. 'But some people find it a powerful technique for coping.
'It's different to relaxation therapy because the goal is not to relax. With mindful meditation you learn to accept how things are as best you can.'
Professor Laurence McKenna, consultant in clinical psychology at the hospital, says the technique appears to help sufferers combat fears that tinnitus will ruin their lives.
'Some people worry that they'll never experience peace and quiet again and, as a result, will slowly go mad. These are the kind of thoughts that keep people focused on the tinnitus.
'We can't be sure how mindful meditation alters the brain, but there is evidence of changes in the way the brain functions.'
For instance, some studies suggest it leads to an increase in activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with positive emotion.
John was initially sceptical that consciously thinking about the tinnitus could actually make it go away. But having failed to respond to other therapies, including relaxation techniques, he persisted, meditating for 20 minutes a day.
This involved finding a quiet place, doing some deep breathing and gradually counting down from 500.
'Then when I did start to think about my tinnitus, I was able to tell myself that it was just a part of me, that it was not taking over my life and that I could move forward one day at a time.'
'Admittedly, for a long time nothing seemed to happen and I even thought about giving up/ But because I was desperate, I persisted. And I'm glad I did.
'After a few months I realised I was not hearing the Morse code sound in my right ear as much as before,' says John, who is married to Linda, 53, also a primary school head teacher.
'Now I hardly hear it at all. But whenever I get stressed I spend a few minutes doing the meditation to prevent it returning.
'This treatment has given me back my life and I feel deeply indebted to Jo and her team.'
Mindful meditation for tinnitus is not yet widely available on the NHS but some hospital audiology departments may take referrals from a patient's GP.