This article summarizes clinical characteristics and identifies sensitizing allergens in 135 asthmatic children under 13 years of age in Kuwait, a desert environment with scant vegetation and weather conditions least associated with asthma. There were 84 males (M:F 1.65:1). Almost 70% were breast-fed (1-24 months), 59% had eczema, 52% allergic rhinitis, 78% of first-degree relatives had atopy, and 52% of parents were consanguinous. Cough was the presenting symptom in 92% and together with wheezing occurred in 76%. Most (91%) were < or = 5 years of age at diagnosis and 42% < 2 years. Mean duration of symptoms prior to diagnosis was 9.3+/-2 months (1 week-1 year). Viral upper respiratory tract infections, cigarette smoke, and exercise were the commonest triggers of symptoms (79%, 68%, 62%). Fumes of traditional Bokhour (incense) constituted a major indoor hazard. The most common sensitizing allergens were pollens of imported plants, molds, house dust mites, cockroaches, and peanuts. Management showed considerable under-treatment and included alternative medicines. In conclusion, childhood asthma in this desert environment starts at an early age, and is associated with high rate of atopy and high frequency of sensitization to aero- and food allergens. Asthmatic children are disadvantaged by delay in diagnosis, undertreatment, exposure to indoor cigarette smoke, and local traditions.