Smelling salts trigger a sharp inhalation reflex, bringing in more air and oxygen. This may result in improved alertness. It is also used when a person or an athlete passes out due to decreased blood flow to the brain (especially in a situation where a boxer gets hit on the head and faints out).
At the end of the day, ammonia is a toxic substance. It's diluted in smelling salts, but using them too frequently or holding them too close to your nose can put you at risk for severe irritation of the nose and lungs or, in very rare cases, asphyxiation and death.
This reflex adds air to the lungs and helps oxygen flow quicker to the brain. What makes the smelling salts work for NFL Players is the feeling that it has on the players. The NFL player who sniffs the smelling salts begins to breathe faster and they feel more alert.
However, turning to smelling salts to cure unconsciousness or coerce a boxer to fight through multiple head injuries can be fatal. This is the reason why smelling salts were eventually banned in boxing.
Smelling salts can still be purchased over-the-counter for personal use. Even though they've fallen out of common use, athletes have begun using smelling salts to bolster their athletic performance.
Boxers, football players, and other athletes often turn to the little packets of ammonia, which they believe increase alertness and get them back into the match quickly, even after a big hit. But is this belief justified by science?
Smelling salts have been used since Roman times and are mentioned in the writings of Pliny as Hammoniacus sal. Evidence exists of use in the 13th century by alchemists as sal ammoniac.
Before the fight, cutmen will usually put petroleum jelly on the most likely areas of impact, especially the fighter's face, making the skin more elastic and slippery, and hence less likely to tear.
In the USA and UK, smelling salts are completely legal and still sold by pharmaceutical companies to assist with complaints such as head colds.
Sniffing ammonia, through a single-use ammonia capsule or smelling salts, is done right before a heavy lift to trigger the release of adrenaline, which for many lifters is reported to improve their alertness, focus, performance and potentially reduce lightheadedness and feelings of pain.
Hockey players are sniffing ammonia-laced salt. The packets are known as smelling salts. They contain the active compound ammonium carbonate, a colorless-to-white crystalline solid, which helps stimulate the body's nervous system.
Smelling salts, also known as ammonia inhalants, are an ancient preparation dating back to at least the Roman Empire. Modern smelling salts are ammonium carbonate vapor and are sold in containers that work a lot like a glow stick.
Today, smelling salts are still widely used in the NHL, the NFL, and powerlifting and strongman competitions. They cause a quick burst of adrenaline which athletes believe helps them perform better despite the fact that science suggests the effects of smelling salts are extremely brief.
The truth is, when you do high-intensity exercise in cold air, saliva and mucus build up making you want to spit more to clear your airways – that's the main reason hockey players are continuously spitting.
So to help their eyes re-focus, they squirt a their water bottles into the air and try to follow the water droplets with their gaze. It helps them stay focused and alert and it helps their eye muscles to loosen up.
Several studies have shown that exercise increases the amount of protein secreted into the saliva, especially a kind of mucus called MUC5B. This mucus makes the saliva thicker, which makes it harder to swallow, so we spit it out.
While in normal circumstances a sudden buildup of phlegm might be the sign of an incoming infection of illness, most times mucus buildup during play is as a result of the cold air and exercise.
Yes, athletes are aware that they're doing this, and yes, it's totally on purpose. According to a study done by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, “rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate-containing solution is associated with improved high-intensity endurance exercise performance.”
From superstitious routines, to disgusting rituals, hockey players are a different breed. They aren't afraid to get down and dirty, and do whatever it takes to win. For Mark Letestu, that occasionally means eating a mustard pack to help deal with cramping.
Today, some professional athletes believe smelling salts can improve performance. Smelling salts are inhaled stimulants that increase breathing and blood flow to the brain. Despite their history of use, there is limited research into the effects of smelling salts.