How do smelling salts work?

Some athletes use smelling salts in hopes 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 November 1, 2022 in New York City. (Credit: Jared Silver/NHLI via Getty Images)

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

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

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