“Smelling salts are crystals, which emit ammonia vapor. The vapor is converted into a basic ammonia solution in the mucous membranes, which irritates the lung tissue into believing that one is being suffocated. Therefore, the body goes on alarm alert, after which you wake up.” Gorm Palmgren writes in Illustrerad Vetenskap.
The ammonia vapors that the smelling salt secretes put the body on emergency alert, which wakes us up. Smelling salt consists of crystals of the compound ammonium carbonate. The smelling salt emits irritating fumes with a familiar smell of ammonia.
The vapors dissolve in water and when inhaled they dissolve in the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs. They form a basic ammonia solution that irritates the tissues. The irritation warns the lungs of the risk of suffocation, which activates a reflex that causes the respiratory muscles to contract through the spinal cord. This stimulates breathing. The smelling salt also activates the nervous system, which increases heart rate and blood pressure.
Is smelling salt dangerous?
According to the Poisons Information Centre,
inhalation of ammonia gas in high concentration can lead to the risk of respiratory problems and lung damage. However, smelling salt contains an extremely small amount of ammonia gas and is therefore not dangerous. No health problems have been reported from smelling salt.
Important to keep in mind is that smelling salt is intended for sportsmen and athletes and should only be used for performance-enhancing purposes. If the bottle of smelling salt is held too close to the nose, this can lead to a burning sensation. This sensation may feel unpleasant but is not dangerous. Smelling salt should always be used with caution and as recommended.
Why use smelling salt?
The smelling salt was introduced in Europe during the 18th century and was used for medicinal purposes mainly to wake up people who had fainted, usually women who had a corset that was too tight. This according to Läkartidningen.
Today, smelling salt is not used for medicinal purposes, but instead, among other things, to wake up boxers or other sportsmen who have become unconscious after, for example, a hard blow to the head.
Smelling salt, also called ammonia, is also used today by athletes in American football, hockey and weightlifting because the invigorating effect gets the whole body going, according to Världens Historia.
One reason why smelling salt has become popular to use during training is because the smelling salt contributes to improved oxygenation, increased ability to concentrate, increased performance and that you become more "awake" and alert. The smelling salt can be used shortly before a match, a heavier lift or a similar occasion where you need to be able to perform well.
Who uses smelling salt?
The use of smelling salts has become very popular in sports such as hockey, ice hockey, rugby and American football. Smelling salt is also used in strength training by powerlifters and strongman who want to increase their performance before a heavier lift or perhaps take a new personal best in a lift. This is, as previously mentioned, because the smelling salt increases performance.
How to use smelling salt?
When you want to use smelling salt before an occasion where you want to perform at your best, you smell the smelling salt right before the occasion. If it's before a game, you can smell the salt right before you step onto the pitch. If it is before a heavy lift, you smell the salt, feel the effect and then lift immediately. You first shake the bottle really well, until it feels warm, then you open the lid carefully and a little, so don't remove the whole lid. Then breathe in with the can approx. 10 cm from the nose. Then close the bottle tightly.
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