Maybe you bear in mind these previous black-and-white films the place the damsel in misery faints and is revived with a whiff of smelling salts. Or when Rocky Balboa takes a giant inhale to proceed the massive combat after a couple of too many punches to the face. Or possibly you’ve watched folks getting snicker as they mess with smelling salts on social media. Or caught a professional athlete on digital camera taking a sniff of the potent stuff. 

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Used because the Middle Ages (and possibly even earlier), smelling salts are having a resurgence today. But not with out elevating some eyebrows alongside the way in which. 

“Historically, people have used smelling salts to revive someone after a fainting spell,” explains household drugs doctor Elizabeth Rainbolt, MD. “But they’re not used much medically anymore. These days, they’re commercially available and being used by some people as a pre-workout stimulant of sorts.” 

Smelling salts are being offered at complement shops and on-line as a performance-enhancing power enhance. They promise to “take your performance to the next level” or present “explosive energy and strength.”  

But what’s in that bottle? And what does it do to your physique? Dr. Rainbolt shares the noxious reality behind smelling salts.

What are smelling salts? 

Smelling salts are bottled powders or packets that comprise a healthy dose of ammonia and different chemical substances. Ammonia is historically utilized in gadgets like fertilizer and cleansing merchandise. And if you understand one factor about ammonia, it’s in all probability this: The odor is sufficient to knock you off your ft. Like stale pee. But worse. 

“Ammonia is an irritant,” Dr. Rainbolt explains. “It irritates your airways and your lungs. When you breathe it in, you reflexively take a really big breath. It doesn’t cause a ‘high’ per se, but the rush of oxygen triggers your sympathetic nervous system to take over and can make you feel amped up in a way.” 

That response out of your nervous system is what you usually hear known as a “stress response” or “fight-or-flight mode.” It’s a rush of adrenaline and different hormones that prepares your physique for battle.  

Evolutionarily talking, the fight-or-flight response is your physique’s manner of serving to combat off predators. But in at present’s world, some persons are utilizing smelling salts to faucet into that stress response rush for lower-stakes contests. They make the most of that jolt of power in hopes it’ll assist them run sooner, elevate extra or, in some instances, simply get via one other afternoon on the workplace.

Are smelling salts protected?   

Getting a noseful of smelling salts isn’t essentially going to trigger long-term injury. They’re not bodily addicting. And they’re not more likely to land you within the emergency room.  

But that’s to not say that sniffing ammonia capsules is a wholesome alternative both. After all, ammonia is poisonous. And conditioning your physique to depend on an exterior stimulus to go on along with your day or to pump your self up is usually a slippery slope towards testing out addictive substances. 

Dr. Rainbolt explains why smelling salts aren’t your finest path to improved efficiency. 

Intense reactions 

Smelling salts odor … disagreeable, to place it mildly. It’s like getting a whiff of the worst candle within the aisle. (You know the one.) But occasions a pair thousand.

And your physique will virtually definitely have a reflexive, bodily response to the irritation. You would possibly sneeze. Cough (quite a bit). Or have hassle catching your breath. For folks with circumstances like asthma or different respiratory or lung circumstances, that response could also be worse.  

What’s extra, the irritation could cause you to jerk your head all of a sudden. It’s like a kind of sneezes that catch you off guard. You can’t assist however let it out. And when you’ve had a neck or again damage, that involuntary motion can worsen the injury. 


Smelling salts can put you in danger for chemical burns, Dr. Rainbolt warns. That’s notably true when you maintain the bottle or packet too near your eyes or it is available in contact along with your pores and skin. With repeated use, smelling salts may even trigger burns inside your nasal passages. 

If you select to attempt smelling salts, watch out to learn the package deal label and observe the producer’s directions for his or her use. 

Masking the actual drawback 

Perhaps the most important disadvantage to smelling salts, Dr. Rainbolt says, is that they will camouflage critical damage.  

Injuries are frequent involved sports activities. Athletes put on protecting gear and have concussion protocols in place for good purpose. But taking smelling salts can masks the pains and signs of accidents, making athletes miss out on getting the medical consideration they want.

You’ve in all probability heard these tales about folks getting shot or trapped beneath a pile of rubble and don’t even understand they’re harm till after the surge of adrenaline wears off. The identical will be true if you take smelling salts. That rush of fight-or-flight hormones can maintain you from feeling ache till a lot later. And delaying medical therapy will be harmful. 

Imagine a case the place a quarterback will get sacked and hits his head, taking a pounding from a security twice his dimension. He shakes it off and grabs some smelling salts on the bench. The adrenaline response kicks in and he feels nice. So, he heads again to the sphere. But with out the smelling salts masking his ache response, he might need been inclined to get medical consideration, which he might have badly. 

Unproven and unregulated 

Major sports activities organizations have guidelines banning performance-enhancing substances. But most main sports activities associations, together with the NFL, NHL, NBA and the Olympics permit athletes to make use of smelling salts. 

That’s as a result of — regardless of the claims made by producers and followers of the stuff — analysis hasn’t proven smelling salts provide a efficiency enhance. And as a result of they’re offered as dietary supplements, smelling salts aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, makers could make massive claims with none science to again them up. 

“We need more research to know what smelling salts really do — or don’t do — in terms of athletic performance,” Dr. Rainbolt states. “From what we do know, there are too many risks without any known benefits. So, I don’t recommend them to my patients. It’s just not worth it.”   

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