The documented increase in asthma has been almost entirely in perennial asthma and a large proportion of the cases are allergic to one of the common allergens found all year round in houses, i.e. house dust mites, cats, dogs or cockroaches. In population and case-control studies sensitization to one of these allergens is the strongest risk factor for asthma (adjusted odds ratios > or = 4). Using monoclonal antibody-based assays for the major indoor allergens it has been shown that sensitization to house dust mites is directly related to the concentration of Group 1 mite allergen in dust. This led to the hypothesis that increases in mite allergen secondary to changes in houses were responsible for increases in asthma. However, asthma has also increased in areas of the world where mites do not flourish. In these dry areas sensitization to one of the other indoor allergens is the major risk factor for asthma. Although sensitization of asthmatics reflects the concentration of allergens in their houses, these measurements of exposure do not accurately predict severity of symptoms. Other factors that can contribute to the symptoms of asthma may also have increased. In particular, diesel particulates, ozone, beta 2-agonists, endotoxin and rhinovirus infection have each been shown to enhance the inflammatory response to inhaled allergens. Increases in asthma must relate to some aspect of our predominantly sedentary indoor lifestyle; this could be either increased exposure to allergens or an increase in factors that enhance the response of the lungs to foreign proteins.