What Do Smelling Salts Do For Hockey Players?

Cameron Wilson
Cameron Wilson

Have you ever noticed while watching a hockey game that players seem to be sniffing some sort of powder in a pouch or container? I know I did, and I was more than confused.
Well, after doing some research, the reason for them sniffing powder and the aggravated faces straight after was because the powder was smelling salts. The historic pregame ritual that some players partake in.

However, that led me to ask why they sniff smelling salts and what do they do?

Well, I’ve learned that this question has much more to it than what meets the eye, so without further or do, let’s get into it.

What are smelling salts?

Smelling salts are made up of ammonia, water, and ethanol. An alternative formula is perfume and ammonium carbonate.
These formulas act as a physical stimulate.

The stimulation aspect comes from ammonia. Ammonia causes irrational to the nasal and lung membranes when sniffed. The result of this is involuntary inhaling causing you to breathe faster than usual, which sends more oxygen to the brain.

The smelling salt ritual in hockey

When it comes to intensity, hockey does not lack, being one of the most intense sports in the world: slamming bodies against boards and flying pucks at 100mph.
However, before this starts, everything appears normal, with players warming up on the benches and chit-chatting.

Until they reach for their smelling salts and their faces lose control, they let out an angry scream; the flip has been switched, and it’s now game time.

How do smelling salts benefit hockey players?

Smelling salts work for hockey players because it makes them feel more alert and allows them to breathe better and more efficiently. Intrinsically increasing their performance due to their ability to play longer, harder and faster while also providing extra strength, speed, elevation in heart rate, and blood pressure.

Smelling salts also give the players a sense of intensity and drive. Much like caffeine makes us feel more awake, sniffing salts get us hyped up and ready to play as the intensity of the irritation triggers our fight or flight response giving us a brief surge of adrenaline.

Research, however, shows no performance-boosting noted from smelling salts. This gives us an indication that smelling salts is a placebo effect, giving hockey players the confidence needed to increase their performance and reap all the benefits listed above.

What are the negatives to smelling salts?

Athletes may use smelling salts to counteract the impact of head trauma, such as concussions, to get back in the game faster, especially in a brutal sport like hockey.

This can be highly detrimental to the athlete as concussive symptoms could be masked or hidden, resulting in delayed diagnosis/treatment. Also, a rapid return to the sport with a high risk of reinjury could worsen the consequences of head injury.

When someone is new to smelling salts, their head can jerk back involuntarily. This may cause additional damage to a person with a spinal injury or people in the surrounding area. Given that hockey players use ammonia on the bench, this could be a significant concern.

The tolerant dose of ammonia is 250 ppm within 1 hour. However, exposure to an additional 50 ppm of ammonia after this point can cause major side effects.

What are the side effects of smelling salts?

Vertigo: This is often in teenagers. However, this feeling passes within a few seconds, and the person quickly regains consciousness.

Coughing: The first-time user could get a cough due to the irritation of the nasal cavities.

Burning eyes: Ammonia can be an eye irritant. If the salt packet is held near to your face, then your eyes might start having some burning sensation.

More prolonged use of these irritant salts can damage the nasal membranes.

How long do the Smelling Salts effects last?

Surprisingly smelling salts reinforce a placebo effect, as scientifically, the kick and effects fizzle out immediately, with most players often admitting that the effects wear off after leaving the bench.

The brief mental boost is the only real effect of smelling salts, hence why you often see powerlifters use it just before a lift.

Hockey players, in truth, only use smelling salts for what it stands for rather than the physical effects themselves.

Are smelling salts dangerous?

No, when used with the recommended dose and in the proper context, for example, in a sporting situation or someone needs to regain consciousness after fainting.

The lethal dose of Ammonia is 2500-4500 ppm for 30 minutes. This will result in a fatality.

Where to get smelling salts?

Smelling salts are not a banned substance in the USA, so they are regularly found on major retailers like Amazon.

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The 3rd period

Smelling salts, in the bigger picture, are a massive placebo for hockey players, but it works for them never the less as the increased “performance” is due to the mental clarity and drive they get from the idea of sniffing smelling salts.

The very brief increase in physical performance is a bonus. So whether smelling salts make a difference in enhancing abilities is subjective to the player.

However, time and time again, they light up our screens with intense, thrilling hockey action, so whatever they need to get in the “zone” before the game shouldn’t be frowned upon.

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Cameron Wilson
Cameron Wilson
Cameron is from Ottawa and played college hockey for Saskatchewan. He now coaches in Division III. He is passionate about traveling, treaking, woodwork, and ethnic food. Cameron is also interested in sharing his knowledge about the beautiful game of ice hockey.