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A substantial variation in the association of asthma, rhinitis and eczema with elevated serum allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (sIgE) levels between different populations has been reported. Here, we wanted to clarify whether these proportions are different in Finnish and Russian Karelia, and compared the ability of questionnaires, skin prick tests (SPT) and sIgE measurements to detect atopic conditions in these adjacent areas with different living conditions.Randomly selected schoolchildren, aged 6–16 years, and their mothers from Finland (n = 344 children, 344 mothers) and Russia (427 and 284 respectively) participated. SPTs and sIgE measurements to common inhalant and food allergens were performed. The occurrence of asthma, rhinitis, eczema and related symptoms was assessed with an International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood-based questionnaire. Correlation between SPT and sIgE was estimated using the Spearman correlation coefficient.The rate of positive sIgE results was significantly higher in Finland among both mothers and children. Seventy-seven per cent of Finnish children and 43% of Russian children with asthma were sIgE positive. The respective figures for hay fever were 94% and 67%, and for eczema 68% and 41%. This discrepancy was similar but of lower magnitude among mothers. The overall occurrence of asthma, rhinitis and eczema was very low in Russian Karelia. The correlation between SPT and sIgE results was generally good.Asthma, rhinitis and eczema in Russian Karelia are not only rare but also, to a large extent, have no sIgE component. Therefore, the ability of questionnaires to detect sIgE-mediated atopic conditions in this area of Russia is poor.