The atmosphere plays a key role in plant disease, but only recently has it become understood that atmospheric pollutants can influence the response of plants to attack by pests and pathogens. This paper reviews the evidence for this phenomenon, considering impacts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, mainly on fungal pathogens and aphid pests. Field observations in polluted areas have indicated changes in abundance of pests and pathogens and in some cases a causal link has been demonstrated in controlled experiments. A major study is described in which consistent marked positive impacts of SO2 and NO2 have been shown on a range of British agricultural aphid pests, using four different approaches: fumigations, nitration studies, exposure along air pollution gradients and a nation-wide field survey. Ozone, in contrast, produces a more complex range of responses. These effects are apparently mediated via chemical changes in the plant. Fungal pathogens show both positive and negative responses to air pollutants. A study is described in which these opposite responses in two different fungal species were observed in a field SO2–fumigation system and confirmed in controlled laboratory fumigations. Models are presented to describe the complex pathways by which air pollutants could influence host plant performance via impacts on pests and pathogens.