We have prospectively evaluated for the past 8 years 29 children who were hospitalized during infancy with acute lower respiratory tract illness caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). No differences in the prevalence of a family history of atopy or breast-feeding in these infants compared with controls were noted. However, a history of parental smoking was significantly associated with hospital admission for RSV lower respiratory tract disease. Evidence of atopy, as defined by serum IgE levels and radioallergosorbent testing, have developed in only three (10%) of 29 children. Six children (21%) continue to have recurrent lower respiratory tract disease. Fifty-five percent of these children had abnormally low oxyhemoglobin levels (SaO2) measured by ear oximetry for the first 3 to 4 years after the acute illness. Twenty-one percent have persistently low SaO2 levels during the eighth year of follow-up. Spirometric values indicate evidence of peripheral airway obstruction. These studies suggest that an association between RSV lower respiratory tract infections and chronic abnormalities of pulmonary function may be detected sequentially through the first 8 years of life. These abnormalities are not limited to those children developing an atopic state during that same time period.