SAPALDIA--the Swiss Study on Air Pollution and Lung Diseases in Adults--focuses on the long term health effects of low to moderate levels of air pollutants as typically seen in different parts of Switzerland. The aim of the SAPALDIA cross-sectional study carried out in 1991 was to determine the prevalence of bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis and allergic conditions in the adult population of Switzerland and to identify and to determine the respective importance of potentially influencing factors. These could be both personal (smoking habits, allergy status, family history, occupation) and environmental (outdoor and indoor pollution, aeroallergens, climate). A further aim of the cross-sectional study consisted in the identification of individuals susceptible to present symptoms during a two year observation period and to be included in the SAPALDIA follow-up study. This technical report represents the methodological documentation for the cross-sectional study of SAPALDIA. The instruments and the methods of standardisation are presented and discussed. The medical examination consisted of a computerised interview using a standardised questionnaire, the taking of a blood sample for serological tests, allergy skin testing, the measurement of end expiratory CO and body height, and pulmonary function testing followed by methacholine challenge testing or bronchodilatation testing. The pattern of participation and the 9651 participants of the study, representing 59.3% of the sample, are described. Based on information on non-participants gained by telephone interviews and mailed short questionnaires, possible selection biases are quantified and discussed.