Types of Saline

Nasal spray is a common type of saline solution.
Nasal spray is a common type of saline solution. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Saline solutions are used for everything from nasal sprays to cleaning solutions for contact lenses. There are three main types of saline solutions; isotonic, hypertonic and hypotonic. Some saline solutions contain additives. These solutions are used primarily for medicinal and scientific purposes.


Isotonic saline solutions are the main solutions used when saline is needed intravenously. Isotonic solutions contain the same salinity as bodily fluids, so the cells will not shrink or swell because of salt content. Isotonic saline is also used in some nasal sprays to relieve sinus congestion and pressure.


Hypertonic saline solutions have a salt level higher than normal bodily fluids. When used intravenously, blood cells with swell with water because more salt is in the bloodstream. Hypertonic saline solutions are most often used to treat spider and varicose veins through sclerotherapy. Hypertonic saline can also be used to treat edema and cystic fibrosis patients.


Hypotonic saline solution is the opposite of hypertonic saline. Hypotonic saline contains less salt than normal bodily fluids. The salt ratio in hypotonic solutions varies because different amounts are used for different treatments. Hypotonic saline solutions are also used to treat infections. Treatment is usually intravenous.

Solutions with Additives

Pure saline solutions contain only water and sodium chloride. There are three main types of saline solutions that contain additives. Ringer, Gleichenberger and Ems solutions all contain different chemicals to enrich the salt water. These saline solutions are used mainly as nasal sprays and washes. Doctors and surgeons may use these solutions on patients of nasal surgery, as well.

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