Infection by helminthic parasites can cause the polyclonal stimulation of IgE synthesis, possibly via an enhanced production of interleukin-4 (IL-4), and this has been suggested to influence the allergic reactivity of tropical populations where these parasites are endemic. We evaluated a group of urban slum children in Caracas, Venezuela, with a high prevalence of helminthic infection (70.8%), to establish the relationship between the elevated IgE levels (3696 IU/ml) induced by these parasites and various aspects of the allergic response. Although the absolute levels of IL-4 detected in the sera of these children were low (0.65 +/- 0.20 ng/ml), a strong positive correlation (r = 0.78) was found between these and serum IgE. The cutaneous immediate hypersensitivity reactivity to extracts of common environmental allergens was relatively low (17.5% to house dust), although that to Ascaris extract was moderately high (49.4%). Significant inverse correlations were found between total IgE levels and the different skin test reaction diameters, including Ascaris. The positivity of Prausnitz-Kustner passive transfer tests was low in this group (34%), with a strong inverse correlation (r = -0.75) being found between this and total IgE levels. Significant inverse correlations were also found between total IgE levels and specific IgE antibody to environmental allergens, and to Ascaris antigen. We suggest that the polyclonal production of IgE stimulated by helminthic infection can suppress the allergic response to environmental and parasite allergens via both mast cell saturation and inhibition of specific IgE production.