The immune response to helminth infections has long been known to share key features with the allergic response. In particular, both are typified by enhanced T helper 2 (Th2) responses with high levels of interleukin-4 (IL-4), IL-5 and IL-13, accompanied by eosinophilia and abundant IgE production. Paradoxically, the geographical distribution of helminth parasitism and allergic disease is complementary rather than coincident. Thus, the question arises does the Th2 response to parasites protect or pre-empt the host from developing Th2-linked allergic manifestations? It is suggested that downregulatory immune mechanisms, which dampen the anti-parasite response, might benefit the host by blocking progression to atopic reactions. This is of relevance in explaining how the "hygiene hypothesis" might operate immunologically and in the design of therapeutics.