Published October 11, 2023
Ammonia inhalants, commonly called smelling salts, are used to treat people who feel faint or awaken them after they have fainted. Ammonia has a very strong odor and when it is inhaled, it causes irritation to the inside of the nose. This irritation makes a person breathe quickly in an attempt to clear their nose. The increase in breathing sends more oxygen to your brain, making you feel more alert.
Some companies produce smelling salts in various forms and promote their use to athletes (e.g., powerlifters, football and hockey players) and consumers, claiming these products improve performance, focus, and energy. However, these products also contain other chemical ingredients such as sodium carbonate, alcohol, and fragrant oils, such as peppermint and eucalyptus. These products are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and may cause harm. For example, inhaling ammonia can quickly lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation. It may also cause coughing and airway constriction. If it is accidentally spilled or splashed onto the skin or into the eyes, it can even result in severe burns.
FDA recently warned consumers not to purchase or use two products, Nose Slap and Soul Slap (Figure 1),which claim to make a person immediately feel alert and focused. The warning was issued after FDA received a number of reports from consumers who experienced shortness of breath, seizures, migraines, vomiting, diarrhea, and fainting after use.
A quick search online brought up many other smelling salt products. For example, another product is sold in a nasal spray bottle (Figure 2), but it is not meant to be sprayed directly into the nose! The directions state to “squeeze and sniff” the spray. Parents should also be on the lookout for products that may be appealing to children (Figure 3), especially since child-resistant safety caps are likely not on these products.
Here’s what you can do: Do not purchase or use Nose Slap, Soul Slap, or any other “smelling salt” products. Smelling salts should only be used in certain emergency situations. Products available on the internet and marketed to provide alertness and focus are not FDA-approved for consumer use. Be aware of products that may look appealing to children.
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