Injection of autologous serum collected during disease activity from some patients with chronic spontaneous urticaria (CU) into clinically normal skin elicits an immediate weal and flare response. This observation provides a convincing demonstration of a circulating factor or factors that may be relevant to the understanding of the pathogenesis and management of the disease. This test has become known as the autologous serum skin test (ASST) and is now widely practised despite incomplete agreement about its value and meaning, the methodology and the definition of a positive response. It should be regarded as a test for autoreactivity rather than a specific test for autoimmune urticaria. It has only moderate specificity as a marker for functional autoantibodies against IgE or the high affinity IgE receptor (FcepsilonRI), detected by the basophil histamine release assay, but high negative predictive value for CU patients without them. It is usually negative in other patterns of CU, including those that are physically induced. Positive ASSTs have been reported in some subjects without CU, including those with multiple drug intolerance, patients with respiratory allergy and healthy controls, although the clinical implications of this are uncertain. It is essential that failsafe precautions are taken to ensure that the patient's own serum is used for skin testing and aseptic procedures are followed for sample preparation and handling. CU patients with a positive ASST (ASST(+)) are more likely to be associated with HLADR4, to have autoimmune thyroid disease, a more prolonged disease course and may be less responsive to H1-antihistamine treatment than those with a negative ASST (ASST(-)) although more evidence is needed to confirm these observations conclusively.