The effect of a single dose of prednisolone (20 mg) or cetirizine (10 mg) on the immunohistology of the cutaneous late-phase reaction was determined in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study in 12 atopic allergic individuals. The subjects were challenged with intradermal allergen (30 BU) 2 hr after ingestion of the drugs or placebo. The magnitude of the cutaneous reactions were determined at 15 min, 6 and 24 hr, and skin biopsies performed at 24 hr. Cetirizine produced a 50% average inhibition of the immediate weal and flare response (P=0.001) and a 27% average inhibition of the 6 hr late-phase induration (NS). Prednisolone reduced the immediate (27%, P=0.03) and significantly inhibited the late-phase reaction (53%, P=0.02). Prednisolone significantly inhibited infiltration of CD45+ (total leucocytes), neutrophil elastase+, EG2+ (activated eosinophils) and CD25+ (IL-2R) cells (P=0.017, 0.005, 0.005 and 0.032 respectively). CD3, CD4, CD8 and HLA-DR expression was also inhibited but this was not significant. Cetirizine also reduced the numbers of EG2+ cells, particularly those with high counts before treatment but the overall results were not significant. No other changes in the cellular infiltrate were demonstrated when cetirizine was compared with placebo. These findings indicate a single dose of prednisolone significantly reduces leucocyte infiltration and activation as well as the magnitude of the cutaneous late-phase reaction.