What Does Smelling Salt Do to Your Body?

Perhaps you recall those classic black-and-white films in which the distressed woman faints and is awakened with a sniff of smelling salts. Or when Rocky Balboa takes a deep breath to keep fighting after receiving several punches to the face. Perhaps you have observed someone deriving amusement from experimenting with smelling salts on social media and or captured a professional athlete on camera inhaling the vital substance.

Smelling salts, which have been used since the Middle Ages (and possibly even earlier), are experiencing a revival recently. However, it only causes some surprise or curiosity in the process.

“In the past, individuals have utilized smelling salts to revive someone following a fainting episode,” clarifies Dr. Elizabeth Rainbolt, a physician specializing in family care. “However, they are no longer commonly used in medical practice.” They are readily accessible for purchase and utilized by specific individuals as a type of pre-workout stimulant.

Supplement stores and internet retailers sell smelling salts to enhance performance and raise energy levels. They claim to improve your performance or offer increased energy and strength.

However, what is contained within the bottle? And how does it affect your body? Dr Rainbolt reveals the unpleasant reality of smelling salts.

What are aromatic stimulants?

Smelling salts are packaged powders or packets that contain a substantial amount of ammonia and other compounds. Ammonia is commonly employed in products such as fertilizer and cleaning agents. And if you’re familiar with ammonia, you probably know this: The odour is strong enough to make you lose your balance. Similar to old urine. But even more unfavourable.

“Ammonia can irritate,” Dr. Rainbolt explains. It irritates your respiratory passages and your lungs. When you inhale, you instinctively take a deep breath. It doesn’t necessarily induce a ‘high,’ but the surge of oxygen stimulates your sympathetic nervous system to assume control and can give you a heightened sense of energy.

The reaction from your neurological system is commonly known as a “stress response” or “fight-or-flight mode.” A surge of adrenaline and other hormones readies your body for combat.

From an evolutionary perspective, the fight-or-flight reaction is the body’s mechanism to defend against predators. However, in the present day, specific individuals are utilizing smelling salts to access that rush of stress response for less significant competition. They use that burst of energy with the expectation that it will assist them in running faster, lifting more, or, in certain instances, simply getting through another afternoon at work.

Are smelling salts considered to be safe?

Inhaling smelling salts does not inevitably result in long-term harm. They do not have a physical addiction. And they’re unlikely to cause you to require emergency medical attention.

However, it should be noted that inhaling ammonia capsules is not a healthy option either. In the end, ammonia is poisonous. Conditioning your body to depend on an external stimulus to continue your day or to motivate yourself can lead to experimenting with addictive substances.

Dr. Rainbolt discusses why there may be more effective methods for enhancing performance than smelling salts.

Strong responses

Smelling salts have a distinct odor… Not enjoyable. It’s like smelling the most unpleasant candle in the row. (You are familiar with the one.) But times a few thousand.

And your body will most likely have an automatic, physical response to the aggravation. You may experience a sneeze—cough (often). Or experience difficulty breathing. That response may be more severe for individuals with illnesses such as asthma or other respiratory or lung disorders.

Additionally, the soreness can lead to a sudden movement of your head. It’s similar to one of those sneezes that surprise you. It’s impossible to prevent yourself from expressing it. If you have experienced a neck or back injury, such reflexive movement can exacerbate the harm.

Injuries caused by fire or heat

According to Dr Rainbolt, smelling salts can expose you to the risk of chemical burns. That is incredibly accurate if you hold the bottle or packet near your eyes or if it touches your skin. With frequent usage, smelling salts might also result in burns within your nasal passages.

If you decide to attempt using smelling salts, please make sure you carefully read the label on the bottle and adhere to the recommendations provided by the manufacturer.

Concealing the actual issue

According to Dr Rainbolt, one major disadvantage of smelling salts is that they can hide a significant injury.

It is not uncommon for injuries to occur in contact sports. For valid reasons, athletes wear safety equipment and have procedures in place for dealing with concussions. However, smelling salts might conceal the discomfort and indications of injuries, causing athletes to overlook the necessary medical care.

You may have come across those anecdotes about someone being shot or trapped beneath debris and not realizing their injuries until the adrenaline rush subsides. Similarly, this can also be the case when using smelling salts. The surge of fight-or-flight hormones can delay the sensation of pain until later. Postponing medical care might be risky.

Consider a scenario in which a quarterback is tackled and sustains a blow on his head, enduring a forceful impact from a safety who is twice his size. He brushes it off and takes some smelling salts from the bench. The body’s adrenaline response is activated, and he has a positive sensation. Therefore, he returns to the field. However, if he didn’t have the smelling salts to hide his pain reaction, he could have been more likely to seek medical help, which he might urgently require.

Not yet proven or regulated

Major sporting organizations have regulations prohibiting the use of drugs that enhance performance. However, most prominent sports organizations, such as the NFL, NHL, NBA, and the Olympics, permit athletes to utilize smelling salts.

That’s because, even if makers and fans of the product assert otherwise, research has not demonstrated that smelling salts provide any performance enhancement. Since smelling salts are marketed as supplements, they are not subject to regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, creators can make significant assertions without any scientific evidence.


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