Asthma currently affects the lives of more than 30 million Americans from infancy to the elderly. In many ways, pediatric asthma differs from adult asthma, including childhood-onset adult asthma. Despite many advances in our understanding of the disease, the natural history of asthma is not well defined, especially in different subsets of patients. For many with allergic asthma the disease has its origins in early childhood, associated with early sensitization to aeroallergens and exposure to repeated viral infections. These early life exposures, coupled with genetically determined susceptibility, have a major impact on the natural history of the disease. A number of risk factors during the critical early stages in the initiation of asthma have been associated with subsequent outcomes. In addition, protective factors linked to early life experiences have also been delineated which may impact the development of atopy and asthma and reduce the prevalence of these diseases. Cumulatively, the data highlight the critical nature of this early period in which immune/inflammatory responses in the lung are initiated and serve to maintain the disease in subsequent years.