The prevalence of atopic diseases, including eczema, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and asthma, has increased worldwide, predominantly in westernized countries. Recent epidemiological studies and experimental research suggest that microbial stimulation of the immune system influences the development of tolerance to innocuous allergens. The gastrointestinal microbiota composition may be of particular interest, as it provides an early and major source of immune stimulation and seems to be a prerequisite for the development of oral tolerance. In this review the observational studies of the association between the gut microbiota and atopic diseases are discussed. Although most studies indicated an association between the gut microbiota composition and atopic sensitization or symptoms, no specific harmful or protective microbes can be identified yet. Some important methodological issues that have to be considered are the microbiological methods used (traditional culture vs molecular techniques), the timing of examining the gut microbiota, the definition of atopic outcomes, confounding and reverse causation. In conclusion, the microbiota hypothesis in atopic diseases is promising and deserves further attention. To gain more insight into the role of the gut microbiota in the etiology of atopy, large-scale prospective birth cohort studies using molecular methods to study the gut microbiota are needed.