Have you ever watched a football or hockey game and seen players sitting on the sidelines sniffing something? If you have ever seen a weightlifting competition, you see something similar. The lifter cracks an ampule and sniffs right before they lift. What these athletes are sniffing are ammonia inhalants more commonly referred to as smelling salts. Smelling salts have been a staple in sports for decades.
What Do Smelling Salts Do?
Smelling salts are commonly used to increase athlete alertness and “consciousness”. Essentially, they “hype users up.” This phenomenon occurs due to the inhalation of ammonia gas released by the smelling salts. The National Institute of Health reports that the inhalation of ammonia gas “irritates the membranes of the nose and lungs, and thereby triggers an inhalation reflex that alters the pattern of breathing, resulting in improved respiratory flow rates and possibly alertness.” This reaction and an altered pattern of breathing causes the body to intake more oxygen at an increased rate.
Do Smelling Salts Work?
The short answer is yes. When inhaled, the ammonia will cause irritation of the membranes in the nose and lungs. This irritation kicks in an involuntary inhalation reflex. When this occurs, your breathing rate increases significantly. This in turn increases alertness and gives your body a boost in strength. Here is why. Your breathing rate and heart rate are tied closely together. As your breathing rate increases, it sends signals to your heart causing your heart rate to increase.
This dual-action allows our bodies to regulate air and oxygen and dispense of CO2 more effectively. As your heart rate picks up, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear. The sympathetic nervous system controls your fight or flight instinct. Smelling salts activate the sympathetic nervous system and in turn, can increase your overall strength.
Are Smelling Salts Safe?
This is a common question of debate. Smelling salts have been around since the 13th century. They are available at numerous online retailers and some brick-and-mortar drug stories. They are affordable. A clear indicator of their safety is that no major pro or college sports leagues have banned them. Simply put, smelling salts are safe and effective when used properly. Always follow the instructions on the product label.
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