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 awake. They were once prominent at funeral homes and at blood donation drives. Athletes inhale them from the sidelines in hopes of improving their performance. Rocky takes a whiff of a smelling salt to get back in the ring and continue the fight. But how do these smelling salts work?

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

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