Local reactions and pertussis toxin specific immunoglobulin E antibodies (PT-IgE) were investigated in healthy children following primary and booster immunization with a combined diphtheria tetanus acellular pertussis vaccine (DTPa) including pertussis toxin, filamentous haemagglutinin and pertactin. A primary series of DTPa was administered to 150 infants, and 104 of them received a booster dose of DTPa combined with inactivated polio vaccine at 2 years of age. PT-IgE was measured in serum samples from 72 children using a modified nitrocellulose RAST. Primary immunization was associated with low incidence of local reactions (1%-5%). After the booster dose 21% of children had a local reaction >/=20 mm. Local reactions after the booster dose tended to be more common in children who had experienced reaction at primary immunization. PT-IgE was detected in 18% and 86% of children following primary and booster vaccinations, respectively. Allergic and non-allergic children did not differ in PT-IgE responses. After primary immunization, elevated PT-IgE levels were found more often in children with a family history of allergy than in those without known allergy in the family. Children with local reactions had significantly higher pre- and post-booster PT-IgE levels and median post-booster pertactin IgG and diphtheria-IgG levels than children without local reactions. Conclusion Acellular pertussis immunization induces IgE antibodies to pertussis toxin, especially after booster vaccination. The higher median pre- and post-booster levels of pertussis toxin specific immunoglobulin E and post-booster levels of IgG to pertactin and diphtheria in children with local side-effects reflect a multifactorial immunological mechanism of such reactions.