A group of children with a past history of wheezing was randomly selected from the Melbourne community at the age of 7 years in 1964, and a further group of children with severe wheezing was selected from the same birth cohort at the age of 10 years. These subjects have been followed prospectively at 7-year intervals, with the last review in 1999, when their average age was 42 years. Eighty-seven percent of the original cohort who were still alive participated in the 1999 review. This study showed that the majority of children who had only a few episodes of wheezing associated with symptoms of a respiratory infection had a benign course, with many ceasing to wheeze by adult life. Most who continued with symptoms into adult life were little troubled by them. Conversely, those children with asthma mostly continued with significant wheezing into adult life, and the more troubled they were in childhood, the more likely symptoms continued. There was a loss in lung function by the age of 14 years in those with severe asthma, but the loss did not progress in adult life. The childhood asthma had been treated before the availability of inhaled steroids. There was no significant loss of lung function in those with milder symptoms.