Hypertonic vs. Hypotonic Solutions: Differences and Uses

Hypertonic and hypotonic solutions aren’t just theoretical concepts. You can encounter both in your everyday life, such as in the following scenarios.

1. In Intravenous (IV) Solutions

Medical professionals carefully formulate IV solutions so they’re compatible with your body’s natural fluids.

To reduce edema (swelling), they might use a hypertonic IV solution to draw excess water out of your bloodstream and into your cells. On the other hand, a doctor might administer a hypotonic IV solution to increase the total volume of fluid in your body.

2. In Your Blood

Your red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout your body, are a classic example of how hypertonic and hypotonic solutions affect cells.

If your red blood cells were to meet a hypertonic solution, water would exit the cells, causing them to shrink and become less efficient at transporting oxygen. This could lead to a decrease in your blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen your blood cells can carry.

In contrast, if your red blood cells were to meet a hypotonic solution, water would enter the cells, causing them to swell and potentially burst. This could cause the red blood cells to rupture in what’s called hemolysis, an obviously harmful outcome.

3. In Plants

Plant cells also exhibit responses to hypertonic and hypotonic solutions. The plant cell wall, which is rigid and surrounds the cell membrane, plays a critical role here.

In a hypertonic solution, water moves out of the plant’s cells, causing the cell membrane to pull away from the cell wall. This phenomenon is known as plasmolysis and can lead to reduced turgor pressure (which causes wilting) in plant cells.

In a hypotonic solution, water moves into plant cells, causing them to become turgid and maintain their rigidity, something that’s absolutely essential for the health and growth of the plant.

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