Although allergic sensitization of the respiratory tract induced by chemicals is not as common as skin sensitization, it is nevertheless an important occupational health issue. Respiratory allergy to chemicals, characterized typically by rhinitis and asthma, is associated with considerable morbidity and with related socioeconomic costs. Several experimental approaches have been proposed for the prospective identification of chemical respiratory allergens, but none of these has yet been validated formally. In the absence of a widely accepted method for respiratory allergen identification, it is appropriate and relevant to explore their relationship with skin-sensitizing chemicals. A series of chemicals known to cause immune-mediated respiratory allergy in humans has been examined. The majority of the respiratory allergens tested were found to elicit positive responses in one or more standard tests used for the identification of skin-sensitizing potential (guinea pig maximization test, the Buehler test and/or the local lymph node assay). We suggest that this observation might form the basis of a potentially useful paradigm for initial characterization of the respiratory-sensitizing potential of chemicals. Specifically, chemicals that fail to elicit positive responses in accepted skin-sensitization test methods might also be regarded as lacking the inherent potential to cause allergic sensitization of the respiratory tract. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.