Individually designed music therapy may help reduce noise levels in people suffering from tinnitus, or ear ringing, German scientists said on Monday.

The researchers designed musical treatments adapted to the musical tastes of patients with ear-ringing and then stripped out sound frequencies that matched the individual's tinnitus frequency.

After a year of listening to these "notched" musical therapies, patients reported a distinct decrease in the loudness of ringing compared with those who had listened to non-tailored placebo music, the researchers wrote in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Tinnitus is a common hearing problem in industrialized countries and the ear-ringing can be loud enough to harm quality of life in between one and three percent of the general population, the researchers said.

A European Union (EU) health panel raised the alarm in January about the potential hearing damage caused by young people playing their MP3 players too loud.

The EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks warned that listening to personal music devices at high volume for long periods could cause hearing loss and tinnitus, and their warning prompted the European Commission to issue new safe volume standards for MP3 players.

The German researchers said the precise cause of tinnitus is not known, but the auditory cortex — the region of the brain that processes sound — is often distorted in those who have it.

Christo Pantev of the Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosignalanalysis at Westfalian Wilhelms-University, Germany, who led the study, said his findings on targeted listening suggested that tinnitus volume could be "significantly diminished by an enjoyable, low-cost, custom tailored notched music treatment."