Abnormal breathing during sleep can lead to health problems at all ages. The prevalence of sleep related breathing disorders is between 5 and 10 percent of the general population and estimated to include up to 32 million Americans. Initially, obstructive sleep apnea was categorized as a complete closure of the upper airways during sleep. We subsequently found that partial occlusions can also occur leading to different types of responses, including brain involvement. Disturbances of air exchange may lead to immediate changes in oxygen and CO2 levels, heart rate, impacting the nerves that control the organs of autonomic nervous system.
In the recent past, my team of researchers has shown that even if some genetic changes favor the development of sleep disorder breathing, environmental factors may either worsen or counteract these genetic factors. A fundamental treatment issue is recognizing these risk factors that worsen the genetic tendencies early in life and then implementing environmental approaches to counteract any of these tendencies. We know that such intervention is much more difficult after late teenage (post puberty) years. This health problem commonly “runs” in families and the children of patient with this syndrome have a higher change than the general population of developing problems.
Based on our previously published investigations, I have been involved in the advances of the diagnosis and treatment of all aspects of this important health problem since its recognition. Because breathing problems during sleep affect all the viral functions of the body, almost every bodily system is affected. Despite clear advances in the field, millions of people remain undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or untreated. Often times, only subjects who already present with the many complications of this disorder are sent to specialized services. Unfortunately, by that time, the treatment options are limited and incomplete treatment is often seen.
It has been my lifelong goal to recognize these risk factors early and apply the necessary countermeasures. Achieving this goal encompasses three distinct directives:
- Create multidisciplinary treatment centers with neuro- developmental physicians and psychologists, bio-engineers, computer science specialists and pediatric and adult sleep medicine specialists.
- Educate all healthcare professionals on how to recognize and treat abnormal breathing during sleep.
- Continued clinical studies to explore current and new therapies for further progress in the field.
In summary, our goal is to significantly decrease the development of sleep disordered breathing syndromes to avoid the many complications that currently impact learning, cognition, memory, alertness, sleep and cardiovascular and metabolic functions resulting from these syndromes. My team has the passion and knowledge to prevent the escalation of these conditions that significantly impair the well-being of subjects throughout the world. Through ongoing collaboration, our goal is being realized.