Chemistry is a vast domain to learn and the necessary terms can be confusing with each other. Although the naming can be identical for many terms, their definitions and purposes are completely opposite to each other.
Two such terms are Osmolality and Osmolarity, which sound exceptionally similar but practically vary in properties.
- Osmolality measures solute concentration per kilogram of solvent, while osmolarity measures solute concentration per liter of solution.
- Osmolality is less affected by temperature and pressure changes than osmolarity.
- Clinicians use osmolality more frequently for diagnostic purposes, as it provides a more accurate representation of body fluid concentrations.
Osmolality vs Osmolarity
Osmolality refers to the concentration of osmotic particles per weight of solvent in kilograms. These tests are used to measure dehydration and diabetes. Osmolarity is the number of solute particles per volume of solution in litres. The osmolarity test measures the concentration of particles in blood and urine.
Osmolality is defined as the number of osmoles of solute per kilogram of solvent. Osmolality is calculated when the conditions include varying pressure and temperature.
Since neither temperature nor pressure has an effect on the number of solutes or the weight of the solvent, osmolality can be calculated in all conditions.
Osmolarity is defined as the number of osmoles of solute per litre of a solution. Osmolarity is only calculated when the conditions include constant pressure and temperature.
Although the number of solutes is constant, both temperature and pressure can change the volume of the solution. Thus, osmolarity can be calculated only in favourable conditions.
|Parameters of Comparison
|Osmolality = Osmoles/(One kilogram of solution)
|Osmolarity = Osmoles/(One Litre of solution)
|Unit of Measurement
|Temperature and Pressure Dependency
|Does not depend on either temperature or pressure.
|Depends on both temperature and pressure.=
|Easy to calculate and practically convenient to use because the solvent is constant.
|Even though it is easy to calculate, it is difficult to determine the volume of the solution as it may vary.
What is Osmolality?
Osmolality scientifically refers to the osmotic pressure of a solution regarding the solution mass. It is defined as the number of osmoles of solute per kilogram of solvent.
The osmoles are defined as the total number of moles of particles present in that particular solution. These solute particles can be atoms, ions, and molecules, etc. For example, if you put sugar in your coffee, sugar is the solute, and coffee is the solvent.
The instrument used to practically measure osmolality is Osmometer. There are various types of osmometer instruments available to calculate the osmolality of samples, including freezing point osmometers, vapour pressure osmometers, etc.
Osmometry is a crucial technology in clinical studies. The osmolality of body fluids is measured by freezing-point depression osmometry.
The measurement of osmolality is also useful while diagnosing sodium disorders, potassium disorders, dehydration, poisoning, adrenal inconsistencies, neurological injuries, etc. Based on their osmolality, the solutions are divided into three types:
- Hyperosmotic: When osmolality is greater than that of the reference solution. For example, seawater.
- Hypoosmotic: When osmolality is less than that of the reference solution. For example, distilled water.
- Isosmotic: When osmolality is practically equal to the reference solution. For example, Boric Acid.
What is Osmolarity?
Osmolarity is scientifically the measure of solute concentration. It is defined as the number of osmoles of solute per litre of solution. Osmolarity is also known as Osmotic Concentration.
Just like osmolality, the solute particles can be ions, atoms, molecules, etc. For example, Osmolarity leads to the measurement of the osmotic pressure of that solution and helps to study the solvent’s diffusion through a semi-permeable membrane.
This process practically separates two solutions of different osmolarity. Osmolarity decides the hydration status of the human body. It is important because if the osmolarity of the surroundings of the cell is different from the cell itself, the cell cannot survive.
These cells can only survive if the water levels are balanced. Hence, osmolarity is necessary for the process of osmosis so cells can burst if they reach excessive water levels and compress if they lose too much.
When comparing two solutions with different =osmolarities, three terms are used to define such distinct solutions:
- Hyperosmotic: The solution with higher osmolarity is called hyperosmotic.
- Hypoosmotic: The solution with lower osmolarity is called hypoosmotic.
- Iso-osmotic: If two solutions have practically equal osmolarity, they are said to be iso-osmotic. For example, 0.9 % normal saline is iso-osmotic with tears.
Main Differences Between Osmolality and Osmolarity
- In osmolality, the osmoles are calculated with respect to the weight of solvent, while in osmolarity, the osmoles are calculated with respect to the volume of solution.
- Osmolality is easier to calculate than osmolarity because the solvent remains constant under all conditions. Hence, osmolality is also mostly used in clinical studies.
- Osmolality is used to determine medical conditions like dehydration and diabetes, and Osmolarity is used to determine the concentration of dissolved particles in urine samples.
- Osmolality deals with the number of osmoles in a fluid. On the other hand, osmolarity deals with the concentration of an osmotic solution.
- Osmolality is always more accurate and less practical because everything remains constant, while Osmolarity is more practical and less accurate as it varies with temperature.
Last Updated : 10 September, 2023
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Piyush Yadav has spent the past 25 years working as a physicist in the local community. He is a physicist passionate about making science more accessible to our readers. He holds a BSc in Natural Sciences and Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Science. You can read more about him on his bio page.