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How do smelling salts work? © Alamy

How do smelling salts work?

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Asked by: Terry Jenkins, London

An incredibly pungent mix of ammonia, water and ethanol, smelling salts have been used since Roman times to revive people who have fainted. They’re also used in some sports in an attempt to boost performance: many American football players believe they’re an effective stimulant.

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But a review published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine in 2006 concluded that smelling salts work because the fumes irritate the membranes in the nose and lungs, triggering a sharp intake of breath – but there is no lasting benefit.

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Authors

Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.

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