That the subglottic airways are not sterile, as was once believed, but are populated by a distinct "bronchial microbiome," is now accepted. Also accepted is the concept that asthma is associated with differences in the composition of this microbiome. What is not clear is whether the differences in microbial community composition themselves mediate pathologic changes in the airways or whether they reflect differences in systemic immune function driven by differences in the development of the gastrointestinal microbiome in early life, when the immune system is most malleable. Recognition of the probable existence of a "common mucosal immune system" allowed synthesis of these apparently opposing ideas into a single conceptual model. Gastrointestinal microbiome-driven differences in systemic immune function predispose to sensitization to allergens deposited on mucosal surfaces, whereas possibly similar, but not identical, differences in immune function predispose to less effective responses to microbial infection of the airways, resulting in persistence of the inflammation underlying the structural and functional abnormalities of asthma. In this model, allergic sensitization and asthma are thus seen as commonly overlapping but not necessarily coincident consequences of abnormalities in microbial colonization, development of immune function, and encounter with agents infecting the respiratory tract.