This paper discusses a model for the continuum emission of the Herbig Ae/Be stars in the light of an updated set of observational data spanning 5 orders of magnitude in wavelength and including the low-resolution spectra obtained with the Short Wavelength Spectrometer and Long Wavelength Spectrometer on board the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO). The model is used to reproduce the continuum emission of the 36 Herbig Ae/Be stars included in the list by Thé and coworkers and observed by ISO. The circumstellar matter responsible for the observed spectral energy distributions has been investigated by comparing the set of the observations with the model spectra computed for different possible distributions of circumstellar matter. Cases have been considered with the circumstellar regions partially evacuated along the polar axis by the action of the stellar wind, a phenomenon that is quite common in these pre-main-sequence objects. The inclusion of the polar cavities indirectly allows geometries in which a small-scale disklike structure around the central star is present. The possible coexistence of two different density profiles, in the inner and the outer region of the envelope, respectively, has been also considered. The comparison of the computed models with the observed spectral energy distributions selects the parameter values in such a way that the larger dust grains are preferentially associated with the later spectral types. We find that 17 objects are reasonably fitted, eight of which with a purely spherical model and the remaining nine with the inclusion of the polar cavities. For 10 further objects the fit is worse, and for the remaining nine, almost all associated to IR companions, our model is clearly inappropriate. A linear relationship is suggested between the logarithm of the initial density n0 and the exponent p of the power law n(r)=n0(R*/r)p adopted for the circumstellar density distribution.