It used to be called Pickwickian syndrome. Joe, a character in Charles Dickens’ first novel, “The Pickwick Papers,” is always asleep, even during errands, and snores as he waits tables. Joe was a source of ridicule and laughter; his nickname was “fatboy.”
“We now know that snoring can be a sign of a potentially serious medical condition called sleep apnea,” said Sheri Katz, an Atlanta dentist who specializes in sleep apnea. “The throat is like a long tube. Some people’s throats relax too much as they sleep and their breathing becomes interrupted for seconds and even minutes at a time. People with sleep apnea tend to have more medical problems.”
Katz has dedicated her life to help people combat sleep apnea. She started her career after graduating from Emory University Dental School and was one of the earliest doctors to experiment and use oral appliance devices to treat sleep apnea, making her one of the most sought-after doctors in the field.
“In the early days, one of the only options for people with sleep apnea was a CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure]. Not all patients could tolerate a CPAP.” Even worse, people who had severe sleep apnea had to have tracheotomies, in which a breathing tube is surgically inserted, to relieve symptoms. So, Katz believes oral appliance devices have been an effective alternative for sleep apnea patients.
“I work as part of a team of doctors. A doctor will refer a patient to me. Many times a sleep study test will confirm that the patient has sleep apnea.”
By the time people see Katz, they have been suffering many years with uncontrolled blood pressure, cardiac problems, severe tiredness and headaches.
According to Katz, the common misconceptions about sleep apnea is that only obese people suffer from the condition. However, slender people can have sleep apnea and not know it until their conditions get worse. Men suffer from sleep apnea twice as much as women. However, when women reach menopause, their numbers increase. Also, a person doesn’t always have to snore to have sleep apnea, she said.
Along with oral appliance devices, Katz said people can elevate their beds for better airway flow. People can also lose weight, exercise, and if someone has sinus problems, fixing the sinus problems will alleviate throat inflammation.
Despite all of the current research on sleep apnea, there are still some who don’t trust the facts.
“Many people who don’t believe they have sleep apnea usually end up taking more blood pressure medicine and their medical problems only get worse.”
She urged people to pay attention to those annoying medical problems that don’t seem to be going away like tiredness and high blood pressure. Pay attention to your partner if he or she snores at night. These symptoms could all be related to sleep apnea, she said.
Katz is an adjunct assistant professor at Emory’s Department of Medicine. She teaches medical students how to properly treat patients with sleep apnea. In addition to serving as a diplomate for the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, Katz was past president for the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine.
Her wide of range of patients is evidence of her care and expertise.
“When I treat people with oral appliance devices, I make sure that it is comfortable for night-time sleep and that it is actually working. An overnight sleep study test usually confirms if the oral appliance device is working. After treatment, couples can sleep together again. People who were irritable become more relaxed, and tired patients have so much more energy in life and in the workplace.”
Katz urges people to seriously talk to their doctors if they suspect that they have sleep apnea. People can die from the condition if it goes untreated.
Katz’s husband, Dr. Ian Katz, is a general surgeon at Emory’s Decatur Hospital. She and her husband attend Congregation Shearith Israel.
For more information about Katz’s work, visit her website, oralappliancetherapy.com.