How do smelling salts work?

Some athletes use smelling salts in the hope that it will improve their performance. Here, Chris Kreider (left) and Alexis Lafreniere (right) of the New York Rangers use smelling salts before a game at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 1, 2022, in New York City. (Image credit: Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Smelling salts have been used for centuries to keep people alert. They were once prominent in funeral homes and at blood drives. Athletes inhale them from the sidelines in hopes of improving performance. Rocky takes a whiff of a smelling salt to get back in the ring and continue the match. But how do these smelling salts work?

Smelling salts contain ammonia, a strong and foul-smelling chemical, said Dr Anthony Alessi (opens in a new tab)a clinical professor of neurology and orthopedics at the University of Connecticut.

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