Atopy is a major risk factor for the development of asthma. Immune processes that lead to the development of antigen-specific IgE are essential to the development of atopy. This review examines the immune processes that are candidate targets for modulation by environmental agents; environmental and lifestyle factors that have been suggested as modulators of the development of atopy; and the impact of known environmental agents on atopic processes in the airway. The most important periods of immune development with regard to expression of atopy are likely during gestation and early childhood. A better understanding of which environmental agents are important, as well as the period of life during which these agents may exert an important effect, is essential to devising rational environmental avoidance strategies for at-risk populations.