Asthma and atopic disorders are the most common chronic diseases in the developed countries. Knowledge of the risk factors for these disorders may facilitate the development of preventive strategies aimed at reducing prevalence rates. To investigate the risk factors for asthma and allergic diseases in a large number of adults who are the parents of children in the National Asthma Campaign Manchester Asthma and Allergy Study. All pregnant women and their partners attending "Booking" antenatal clinics were invited to take part in the study. Questionnaire data were collected including the history of asthma and other atopic diseases, pet ownership and smoking habits, and skin prick tests were performed. The prevalence of atopy and the risk factors for asthma and allergic disorders were investigated in all subjects who completed the questionnaire and underwent skin testing. Statistical analysis was carried out using logistic regression. Initially, risk factors were assessed by univariate analysis to see how each potential explanatory variable affected the probability of having allergic disease. Variables were then tested in a forward stepwise multivariate analysis. In 5687 adult subjects there was a very high (48.2%) prevalence of atopy, and 9.7% of subjects had a diagnosis of asthma. In a multivariate regression analysis sensitization to dust mite, cat, dog and mixed grasses were all independently associated with asthma. The odds ratios for current asthma increased with the increasing number of positive skin tests (any two allergens - OR 4.3, 95% CI 3.3-5.5; any three allergens - OR 7.0 95% CI 5.3-9.3; all four allergens - OR 10.4, 95% CI 7.7-14; P < 0.00001). Dog ownership (OR 1.31, 95% CI 1.10-1.57; P = 0.003) and current smoking (OR 1.36, 95% CI 1.15-1.62; P = 0.0004) were significantly and directly associated with "asthma ever". Thirteen per cent of participants reported a history of eczema. In the multivariate analysis the strongest independent associate of eczema was sensitization to dog (OR 1.37, 95% CI 1.14-1.63, P < 0.0001). Apart from dog, the strength of the association between sensitization to common allergens and eczema appeared to be much lower than in the case of asthma. The prevalence of hay fever was high (20.6%), and in the multivariate analysis the association between sensitization to pollen and hay fever was extremely strong (OR 13.6, 95% CI 11.3-16.3; P < 0.0001). The results of the current study emphasize the importance of sensitization to indoor allergens in asthma. However, evidence of a possible direct role of allergen exposure in asthma causation remains unclear.