Lateral flow assays (LFAs) are the technology behind low-cost, simple, rapid and portable detection devices popular in biomedicine, agriculture, food and environmental sciences. This review presents an overview of the principle of the method and the critical components of the assay, focusing on lateral flow immunoassays. This type of assay has recently attracted considerable interest because of its potential to provide instantaneous diagnosis directly to patients. The range and interpretation of results and parameters used for evaluation of the assay will also be discussed. The main advantages and disadvantages of LFAs will be summarized and relevant future improvements to testing devices and strategies will be proposed. Finally, the major recent advances and future diagnostic applications in the LFA field will be explored.