Nitrogen dioxide is known as a deep lung irritant. The aim of this study was to find out whether the relatively low ambient air NO2 concentrations in the northern city of Helsinki had an impact on the respiratory health of children. The association between personal exposure to ambient air NO2 and respiratory health was investigated in a 13-week follow-up study among 163 preschool children aged 3-6 yrs. Personal weekly average exposure to NO2 was measured by passive diffusion samplers attached to the outer garments. Symptoms were recorded daily in a diary by the parents. Among 53 children, peak expiratory flow (PEF) was measured at home in the mornings and evenings. The association between NO2 exposure and respiratory symptoms was examined with Poisson regression. The median personal NO2 exposure was 21.1 microg x m(-3) (range 4-99 microg x m(-3)). An increased risk of cough was associated with increasing NO2 exposure (risk ratio = 1.52; 95% confidence interval 1.00-2.31). There was no such association between personal weekly NO2 exposure and nasal symptoms, but a nonsignificant negative association was found between the exposure and the weekly average deviation in PEF. In conclusion, even low ambient air NO2 concentrations can increase the risk of respiratory symptoms among preschool children.