Smelling Salts Enhance Performance or Health Risk?

Smelling Salts: A Performance Enhancer or Risk to Your Health?

Smelling Salts

Smelling salts have been in use for centuries for medicinal cures. Long since the 13th century doctors have sought to apply ammonia salts as a therapeutic formula for fainting, yet this system of treatment is not commonly practiced today. Chemically speaking, smelling salts are a solution of dilute ammonia mixed in water and ethanol, and can be alternatively referred to as “aromatic spirits of ammonia”!

In recent years, this practice of ammonia sniffing is resurging in the world of sports. Trained and professional sportsmen reportedly inhale ammonia salts to strengthen their focus and train their concentration. Is this a scientifically proven dose of what it claims to be? Or does it pose a potential threat to the human body? Well, this blog has got the answers you need! Let’s begin.

The Practice of Ammonia Sniffing: Context and Variations

Ammonia, as a sole chemical compound, is a named substance due to its wide range of use cases, and basically involves inhaling the vapors or fumes of an ammonia-based solution. While ammonia is primarily known for its use as fertilizers, smelling salts are being employed by athletes to stimulate their minds and boost adrenaline levels. A more detailed explanation and motivation behind this is covered in the succeeding sections.

One of the most commonly used methods of sniffing these salts is by opening the container or lid of the jar containing the ammonia-based solutions, to let the pungent odor of the compound inside the nostrils of the inhaler. Apart from sealed containers, sportsmen may also make use of readymade ammonia capsules. Alternatively, athletes soak cotton balls and pads in this solution. A distance of a minimum of 4-9 inches shall be maintained between the nose and the salt.

There exist some variations in this practice of ammonia sniffing, depending on the individual. Different brands use different concentrations of ammonia in their product, thus varying the preferences of athletes.

Potential Improvement In Performance & The Science Behind It

Before performing any heavy lifting or participating in any strenuous sport, many players prefer to sniff ammonia salts to obtain certain benefits. While there haven’t been any full-proof scientific validations to these improvements, here are the observed claims listed below.

1) Greater Focus

When the vapors of the smelling salts travel through the passage of the nostrils, the respiratory system of the body is triggered and activated. This produces an effect of increased concentration while performing any intense task. Players claim to obtain a high sense of focus psychologically.

2) High Release In The Level of Adrenaline

Another benefit associated with smelling salts is the release of adrenaline hormones from the adrenal glands. Adrenaline stimulates the “fight or flight” response within the frame. This increases the discharge of oxygen concentration in the blood, enhances energy levels, prepares the frame to fight, and improves bodily overall performance. Additionally, adrenaline boosts the immune system of the body.

3) Psychological Boost

The main perk of smelling ammonia is claimed to be the revitalization of psychological strength in athletes. This acts as a perfect solution for facing stressful situations. Professional athletes may be instilled with the power of fighting his/her way out of fatigue.

Curiosity for the reason behind this effect of ammonia is still standing – What is the underlying science?

As soon as the ammonia gets inside the linings of the nasal passage, it causes irritation in the nostrils. This triggers a reflex reaction inside the brain, which results in the lungs inhaling faster, and consequently, the respiratory rate will increase. Then, the sympathetic nervous system is activated and releases adrenaline within the bloodstream. The physiological changes that can be observed here are dilation of blood vessels, elevated coronary heart fee, increase in blood strain, and other related responses that prepare the body for immediate action.

Possible Risks, Health, & Ethical Concerns

In spite of these positive claims, you should have noticed a constant disclaimer throughout this point in the blog – “There’s no scientific proof to these impacts!”

Let’s talk about some of the downsides of ammonia sniffing:

Health problems

Short-term Impacts

  • Respiratory uneasiness: Limitless and immoderate use of smelling salts can also result in inflammation in the respiration tract, which may motivate coughing, throat irritation, and trouble breathing
  • Nasal discomfort: Improper sniffing of ammonia salts can result in discomfort within the mucous membrane of the nasal passage. The smelly odor of the compound may additionally cause congestion in the nostrils and fast sneezing.
  • Eye irritation and allergy: Prolonged usage of these salts too close to the eyes, shall pose challenges to the eyes as well. Burning sensations and accumulation of tears are common symptoms of ammonia sniffing. Allergic reactions of the body to ammonia may also be a sign of a short-term impact.
  • Neck injury: The inhalation of ammonia salts results in a sudden involuntary head jerk backward in the individual. This may cause a spinal injury or worsen an existing discomfort in the neck.

Long-term Impacts

  • Lungs and heart complications: In a long-term interval, the respiratory tract may be subjected to significant damage, which includes cystic fibrosis, and acute asthma. Upon entering the body in rapid amounts, these ammonia salts may cause damage to the lungs as well. The air passage may be restricted which shall eventually result in fatal bronchiolitis. This is a sign of serious impairment to the lungs.
  • Neurological side effects: There are studies that indicate the potential neurological disorder that may be associated with an overdose of ammonia.
  • Carcinomic implications: On prolonged inhalation of ammonia, the body cells may start dividing uncontrollably which implies the impending concern for tumor or cancer.

Ethical problems

  • Being unapproved by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the use of ammonia sniffing in sports like boxing, football, rugby, bodybuilding, etc involves legal concerns. Inhalation of these chemical compounds is strictly prohibited publicly. In worst cases, the sporting authority can be cruel and may impose a short-term or career-long ban on convicted players.
  • Additionally, this practice also raises ethical issues for any sport. This usage of artificial substances before game time or heavy lifting indirectly hands over an unfair advantage to the competitor. The integrity of the sport is hampered greatly.
  • Lastly, no amount of substantial scientific experiments have confirmed the physiological improvement in any athlete. A study from the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” claims that smelling salts induces a placebo effect in the individual, which gives a false perception to the brain. In fact, mere psychological impacts are observed.

Generally, humans are capable of withstanding exposure to around 250ppm of ammonia for an hour. However, the risk factor hugely differs with changes in the concentration. Even 2000-3000ppm inhalation of smelling salts in 60 minutes can be fatal to an individual.

Safer Practices with Ammonia Sniffing

Below are 3 substitutes that can achieve similar experiences to smelling salts:

  1. Maintain a nutritional diet to boost energy and testosterone levels naturally. Being hydrated is also a brilliant way for your general well-being.
  2. Consider using supplements like Whey Protein, Creatine, Beta-alanine, HMB, etc to prepare your body for extensive power training and lifts. Make sure to consult your trainer before that.
  3. Meditation and relaxation techniques can help achieve the desired level of concentration and focus, without any usage of artificial constituents.

Wrapping Up

Coming back to the original question “Is ammonia sniffing a performance booster or risk poser?”. At this time, science hasn’t been able to answer it. The extent of usage of these smelling salts remains unsolved. Athletes claiming to obtain a competitive edge from sniffing salts should be cautious, considering the health consequences associated.

Sports authorities must issue strict guidelines for this practice to ensure minimal health risks and integrity of the sport. Therefore, the best advice for athletes will be to consult a medical practitioner before any consumption of smelling salts!

If you are a fitness enthusiast looking to level up your fitness game with smelling salts, House of Gains has got you covered with high-quality options to boost your workout session on the fly.

We also offer a wide range of top-quality supplements, proteins, and gym accessories to meet your fitness goals. Contact us today to learn more.


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