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What are smelling salts and how do they work?

Updated: Apr 14

Smelling salts are a mixture of chemicals, typically containing ammonia, that can revive individuals who have fainted. Its penetrating odor is designed to awaken and restore them to consciousness.

Inhaling smelling salts can help stimulate the senses, providing a burst of energy and improved focus. Smelling salts can help you breathe better and send more oxygenated blood to your brain, making you feel more awake and alert.

This article provides all the necessary information needed to use them while maintaining safety and security properly—a must-read before picking up this product!

What do smelling salts do?

Smelling salts have historically been used to invigorate those suffering from fatigue and revitalize energy levels. These pungent stimulants provide a stimulating effect, allowing people to fight off exhaustion and feel refreshed!

Smelling salts to be alert and focused

People sniff ammonia inhalants to give them the alert sensation of waking up and feeling alive

In the 13th century, ammonia inhalants became a treatment. They were even utilized by fainting pregnant women back in the 1920s.

There are benefits to using smelling salts, but they should be used correctly and as directed to avoid unwanted side effects. Many athletes have been using them to give them the alertness and energy they need during the game.

Let's dive into why and how these ammonia inhalants work.

What's in smelling salts?

The more familiar concept of smelling salts: "A pungent substance sniffed as a restorative in cases of faintness or headache, typically consisting of ammonium carbonate mixed with perfume."

Smelling salts, ammonia inhalants, a spirit of hartshorn, or sal volatile, are a mixture of ammonium carbonate (NH4)2CO3H2O).

During the 17th century, Aquila coelestis, also known as an aqueous solution of ammonia, was distilled using shavings from the horns and hooves of harts. When crystallized, the substance revealed itself to be ammonium carbonate, initially known as the salt (or spirit) of hartshorn.

Ammonia inhalants mixture

Native Salts smelling salts crystals

However, it became known as "smelling salts" after being combined with scents. You can read more about the history of smelling salts here.

Most ammonia inhalants are typically a combination of diluted ammonia with other substances like ethanol to provide an awakening sensation. They are sometimes combined with scents and other vital ingredients. These solutions offer a physical stimulant.

How do smelling salts work?

When one inhales the ammonia inhalant by sniffing, wafting, or simply smelling it, one can immediately experience its effects. The sharp aroma of smelling salts acts as a powerful respiratory stimulant, irritating the nasal passage and prompting rapid inhalation.

Inhaling the acrid fumes produces a reflexive response that stimulates oxygen flow to the brain and encourages respiratory functions, ultimately reviving an unconscious individual within moments.

Athletes using smelling salts

Smelling salts used in weightlifting to be energetic and focused

Today, most ammonia inhalants have been focused on providing athletes with an alert sensation for the big play or next move. However, they are not limited to athletes. Anyone can use them. They are great in preparation for any sports and activities such as swimming, biking, running, and weightlifting, or for any exercises that require more focus and energy such as pre-yoga meditation, studying, hiking, and other outdoor activities.

Although athletes often use smelling salts to boost their energy or focus quickly, there is no evidence to support that they improve performance. Nevertheless, they can help with mental clarity and focus.

Smelling salts are no longer commonly used by medical professionals. However, they are still effective for reviving someone who has briefly lost consciousness due to fainting.

What do smelling salts smell like?

The old-school sal volatile inhalant, used for years, would often smell bad since it is straight ammonium. While the scent may not be pleasant, it has been found to promote alertness and mental clarity.

The ammonia produces a powerful, odd smell that reawakens a person when placed under the nose. It's the same type of smell when someone inhales something aggressively strong.

Ammonia smelling salts pungent odor

Ammonia inhalants with pungent odor

Today, smelling salts typically have a sharp, pungent odor similar to ammonia. They are sometimes made by combining ammonium carbonate with an aromatic compound, such as lavender oil or rosemary, to help mask the strong ammonia scent.

The aroma can be described as sharp, strong, and slightly sweet, with a medicinal feel.

Are smelling salts bad for you?

There are no medical reports of adverse health issues associated with smelling salts. However, there are several case reports of the toxicity of ammoniacal agents when swallowed in large doses or inhaled in high concentrations for extended periods.

Using ammonia inhalants is effective in medical practices when appropriately utilized. But when athletes use it to desperately enhance their sports performance without following the guidance of health professionals, it raises some issues.

Some examples of bad practices in sports include:

  • Some people sniff ammonia to return to the game sooner to lessen the effects of brain injuries like concussions. It poses a risk since it could hide concussive symptoms and cause a delay in diagnosis. Additionally, returning immediately to the sport could worsen the effects of a brain injury by increasing the likelihood of re-injury.

  • When someone first smells the ammonia inhalant, their head may jolt back. A person with a spinal injury could suffer further harm due to this.

Smelling salts in sports after injury

Source: NFL's management of concussions was questioned after Tua Tagovailoa’s Injury

It is still best to seek a professional's advice when smelling salts. Misusing it might pose a risk of developing health problems.

So, are smelling salts safe?

Historically, doctors would use this stimulant to help someone who had fainted or passed out. Nowadays, everyone uses smelling salts for their stimulating impact, from regular people to athletes trying to boost performance.

Ammonia inhalants are shown to pose no health threats when used as intended and not abused to re-enter a sporting event or activity after an injury.

To put it concisely, ammonia inhalants are seen as generally safe. But it is important to use them only as directed.

For safety measures: the capsule or solution should be held 10–15 cm away from the patient's nose, according to the packaging information for commercially available ammonia inhalants. It is done to keep from breathing in too much ammonia and burning the inside of the nose or mouth.

Smelling salt proper distance for safety

Proper distance when sniffing salts for safety measures

When handled appropriately, the sniffing salt itself is not dangerous or harmful. It is actually beneficial for most users, mainly when applied for medical purposes.

Despite the beneficial effects of ammonia inhalants, it is essential to follow proper application techniques to obtain maximum results.

Natural Aromatic Ammonia Smelling Salts

People are becoming increasingly aware of the possible harmful effects of chemical additives in most commercially available products, leading to a shift towards healthier and more natural alternatives.

As a result, the sudden popularity of healthy alternatives such as Native Salts became the trend for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone in need of a quick energy and focus boost.

100% Natural aromatic smelling salts

Native Salts are 100% natural aromatic smelling salts that are handmade in Chicago

This natural ammonia inhalant smells good and keeps you feeling clear. Unlike traditional chemical-based products, Native Salts are made with all-natural ingredients. Moreover, they produce a perfect aroma that you will surely enjoy for daily use.

Get Native Salts

For the natural and healthier shift, Native Salts have been distributed nationwide since 2018. Indeed, you'd love to have one, too!

Native Salts, our handcrafted product, is made, packed, and shipped with care in Chicago, Illinois.

If you'd like to try our naturally aromatic-smelling salt, feel free to make a purchase below by clicking the "Buy Now" button!

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