IT starts at 10pm and drones on all night, making sleep impossible.

People living on the western side of Southampton Water say they are being driven to distraction by a mystery vibration noise that keeps them awake and is starting to affect their health.

Experts have launched an investigation into the cause of a low-frequency drone that began several months ago.

One woman desperate to escape the din has taken to visiting a friend who lives several miles away and sleeping on their sofa.

Teacher Val Cacchi said: “It’s a pulsing, droning noise, rather like an aeroplane that never quite goes over.

“Over the past week it’s become considerably worse and lasts all night.”

Mrs Cacchi lives near Fawley refinery and initially thought the huge petro-chemical complex might be to blame.

“However, I discovered that a number of my colleagues were suffering in the same way.

They live all along the Waterside and I realised it was unlikely to be Esso because of the distance involved,” she said.

“So I contacted the port authority to find out if they were dredging, but they said they weren’t.”

She added: “I’ve been to the doctor in desperation and got some sleeping tablets. I also spend some nights on a friend’s sofa to try and get some sleep. I’ve also lost days at work through feeling so awful.

“Other people have been to the doctor believing they’ve got tinnitus. One person is seriously considering early retirement as she feels she’s no longer able to cope with day-today life.

“It’s got to the stage where you almost dread going to bed at night because you don’t know if you’re going to get any sleep or not.”

Christine English, who runs the allmobility shop in Hythe, lives in Fawley.

She said: “It’s a very loud humming noise that only happens at night.

“I notice it when I go to bed and all the other sounds have stopped. But no one can pinpoint where it comes from – that’s the weird thing.”

A refinery spokesman added: “There is a lot of industry in the Waterside area apart from us. We are aware of the issue and know that New Forest District Council is trying to identify the source of the noise.”

A council spokesman said it had received ten complaints, mostly from people living in the Hythe and Dibden Purlieu area.

She added: “Due to the large amount of heavy industry along the Waterside area the Environment Agency and the council’s environmental health teams are working together to establish the cause of the noise.

“Out-of-hours monitoring is to be carried out as part of the investigation.”

n Anyone affected by the noise can call the environment protection line on 023 8028 5411 or the Environment Agency hotline on 0800 80 70 60.