The prevalence of allergic diseases has been on the rise for the last 200 years, when hay fever, an easy and obvious-to-recognize illness, was virtually unknown in Europe and North America. Genetic factors are unlikely to explain these rapid increases. Among the potential environmental factors, exposure to ambient air pollution has been intensely debated. Besides passive smoking, which has convincingly been shown to increase the risk for asthma and bronchial hyperresponsiveness among exposed children, the evidence to suggest that outdoor pollution to sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, diesel exhaust, and ozone is causally related with the inception of allergic diseases is poor. Rather, factors associated with the lifestyle of populations or families, such as socioeconomic status, allergen exposure, sibship size, early childhood infections, dietary habits, and growing up in anthroposophic families or a farming environment, may prove to be of greater relevance. The future challenge is to tackle the complex interplay between environmental factors and genetic determinants that will eventually contribute to a better understanding and to better prevention strategies for such multifactorial conditions as asthma and allergies.