The role of sensitization and exposure to Candida albicans in atopic dermatitis (AD) was studied with skin-prick tests, yeast cultures and immunoblotting in 156 young adults with AD attending the Department of Dermatology, University of Turku, during 1983–89. Eighteen patients with allergic rhinitis without eczema and 39 non-atopics were included as controls. Parameters associated with severe AD were simultaneous anti-C. albicans IgE and saprophytic C. albicans growth. A statistically significant correlation between C. albicans sensitization (specific IgE antibodies) and AD symptoms was observed only in patients with saprophytic C. albicans exposure. No correlation between C. albicans-specific IgE and AD severity was shown in patients without gastrointestinal growth. Furthermore, severe eczema was seldom seen in patients without saprophytic C. albicans growth. The most important IgE-binding components of C. albicans in immunoblotting were 27 and 46 kD proteins and mannan, a polysaccharide. IgG and IgA antibodies to C. albicans, mainly towards C. albicans mannan, were found in practically all 70 sera studied. These results suggest a continuous exposure and induction of IgE antibodies by C. albicans in AD patients. Severe phases of AD in colonized patients are associated with IgE synthesis against C. albicans. These findings suggest a role for C. albicans in the exacerbations of AD but the clarification of this subject needs double-blind placebo-controlled treatment trials.