The aims of this study were to estimate the risk to bakers of developing hay fever and rhinitis, to assess the modifying effect of atopy and to estimate the occurrence of job change due to nasal symptoms. A retrospective cohort study was performed among bakers trained in Swedish trade schools from 1961 to 1989 (n=2,923). School control subjects (n=1,258) comprised students in other programmes in the trade schools and population controls (n=1,258) were randomly selected from the general population. A questionnaire on hay fever, rhinitis, the year of onset of these diseases, change of work due to nasal symptoms and work history was mailed to all participants. The atopic state of the responders was assessed by questions on allergic diseases in childhood and among next of kin. Incidence rates for hay fever and other rhinitis were calculated. The relative risk (RR) for hay fever when working as a baker compared with all control subjects combined was increased in males (RR=1.9, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.2-2.9). The RR for rhinitis in male bakers compared with combined control subjects was 2.8 (95% CI 2.3-3.4) and for female bakers 2.0 (1.6-2.7). Of the bakers, 6.1% had changed job due to nasal symptoms, significantly more than the controls. A history of respiratory atopy increased the incidence rates of hay fever and rhinitis, with a synergistic effect between atopy and bakery work in males. In conclusion, Swedish bakers, mainly working in the 1970s and 1980s, had an approximately doubled risk of developing rhinitis. Male bakers also had an increased risk for hay fever. There was a synergistic effect of bakery work and atopy such as a family history of hay fever. Bakers also changed job due to nasal symptoms more often than control subjects.