Summary: Asthma and eczema (atopic dermatitis) are characterized by a number of unexplained phenomena: the familial aggregation of disease, the initiation of disease by apparently trivial exposure to allergens, the preferential transmission of disease from affected mothers and the large increase in prevalence of disease in Westernized societies in the last century. A number of genes and chromosomal regions have been identified that consistently show linkage to asthma and its related phenotypes. Known loci modify the strength of the atopic response, nonspecific inflammation, the ability to respond to particular allergens and nonspecific airway reactivity. Eczema has been shown to be due to a different set of genetic loci that are shared with other skin diseases such as psoriasis and leprosy. Genetic and genomic studies both provide evidence that epithelial surfaces are active in the induction of allergic disease.