Few longitudinal studies have examined the risk factors and natural history of adult-onset asthma. This study assessed the subject characteristics and lifestyle factors that predicted the new diagnosis of asthma in adulthood and how these factors changed over time in those who developed asthma compared with those who do not.Methods: The study enrolled 1554 adults from the Busselton Health Study seen in 1981 and again in 1994–1995 who initially reported never having had doctor-diagnosed asthma. Questionnaire measures were used to assess doctor-diagnosed asthma, respiratory history and tobacco smoking. Height, weight and spirometric measures of lung function were measured. Atopy was assessed by skin prick tests. Logistic regression analysis was used to identify risk factors for adult-onset asthma and changes over time.Results: Reported wheeze, rhinitis, chronic cough, smoking and lower levels of lung function in 1981 each predicted asthma diagnosis by 1994–1995. Neither initial skin-prick reactivity nor newly positive skin-prick tests at follow up were associated with adult-onset asthma. Those diagnosed with asthma were more likely to have new wheeze, new rhinitis, new habitual snoring, weight gain and excess decline in lung function.Conclusions: Adult-onset asthma has risk factors that are distinct from those observed in childhood asthma. The presence of upper airway symptoms including rhinitis, as well as lifestyle factors, such as smoking, predicts those at greatest risk. However, neither pre-existing atopy nor new atopy as measured by skin prick tests was associated with adult-onset asthma.