Allergy was originally defined in 1906 by Clemens von Pirquet as 'altered reactivity' to denote the different reaction which occurs on second exposure to an antigen, due to the formation of antibodies, when compared to the first exposure. Used in this way the term covered all imune reactions; however, its use has since become restricted to certain hypersensitivity reactions. The term atopy (from the Greek 'out of place') was introduced by Coca and Cooke in 1923. They had observed that certain disorders, such as asthma, eczema and urticaria, run in families and that affected subjects show positive wheal and flare skin reactions to common inhalant antigens, but lack precipitating antibodies.

Prausnitz and Kustner in 1921 demonstrated the transfer of atopic reactivity to normal skin by means of serum. The serum factor, called 'reagin' was identified as a new class of immunoglobulin, IgE, in the 1960s.

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