Inner city children have the highest prevalence and the highest mortality rates for asthma in the United States. The purpose of this study was to evaluate sensitization and exposure to common indoor allergens among children aged 3 years to 15 years seen for treatment of asthma at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta, Ga. Eighty children in this study were enrolled in the emergency department and 64 in hospital clinics. Dust from 57 homes, assayed for three indoor allergens (dust mite, cat, and cockroach), revealed similar exposure for asthma and control groups. Sixty-nine percent of the children with asthma had IgE antibodies to dust mite, cockroach, or cat; only 27% of the control subjects were similarly sensitized (p < 0.001). Of 35 children with asthma 21 had both sensitization and significant exposure to the relevant allergen; this was true for only 3 of 22 control subjects (odds ratio, 9.5; p < 0.001). Neither sensitization nor exposure to cat allergen was common in this population. The results show that black children in inner city Atlanta are exposed to high levels of mite and cockroach allergens and that a high proportion of the children with asthma are sensitized to these allergens; the combination of sensitization and exposure is a major risk factor for asthma in this population.