The aetiology of asthma and allergic disease remains poorly understood, despite considerable research. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), was founded to maximize the value of epidemiological research into asthma and allergic disease, by establishing a standardized methodology and facilitating international collaboration. Its specific aims are: 1) to describe the prevalence and severity of asthma, rhinitis and eczema in children living in different centres, and to make comparisons within and between countries; 2) to obtain baseline measures for assessment of future trends in the prevalence and severity of these diseases; and 3) to provide a framework for further aetiological research into genetic, lifestyle, environmental, and medical care factors affecting these diseases. The ISAAC design comprises three phases. Phase 1 uses core questionnaires designed to assess the prevalence and severity of asthma and allergic disease in defined populations. Phase 2 will investigate possible aetiological factors, particularly those suggested by the findings of Phase 1. Phase 3 will be a repetition of Phase 1 to assess trends in prevalence.