Allergic and autoimmune diseases are forms of immune hypersensitivity that increasingly cause chronic ill health. Most current therapies treat symptoms rather than addressing underlying immunological mechanisms. The ability to modify antigen-specific pathogenic responses by therapeutic vaccination offers the prospect of targeted therapy resulting in long-term clinical improvement without nonspecific immune suppression. Examples of specific immune modulation can be found in nature and in established forms of immune desensitization. Understanding and exploiting common mechanisms such as the ability to induce antigen-specific regulatory cells should allow the development of effective therapeutic strategies for both forms of immunopathology. Targeting pathogenic T cells using vaccines consisting of synthetic peptides representing T cell epitopes is one such strategy that is currently being evaluated with encouraging results. Future challenges in the development of therapeutic vaccines include selection of appropriate antigens and peptides, optimization of peptide dose and route of administration and identifying strategies to induce bystander suppression.