Haldane acquired a degree in medicine from Edinburgh University in 1884.
In 1887 he joined is uncle at Oxford University but later left when the title Professor of Physiology was denied him. His early studies included the respiration hazards that coal miners were exposed to, and his report emphasized the lethal effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. In 1898 he created the Haldane Gas Apparatus.
He began to study caisson disease in underground workers which connected to decompression sickness, also commonly known as "the bends." His work in this field lead him to produce the tables for staged decompression, which prevented the development of nitrogen bubbles in the diver's tissue as they ascended from their working depth.
Haldane's approach was in contrast to French physiologist Paul Bert's continuous - ascent decompression procedures of that period. Although developed for the trade of diving in 1907, the staged tables are equally applicable in the recreational and technical diving fields. Engineers sought his opinion on ventilation and respiratory issues when designing submarines, tunnels, mines and ships.
In 1915 Yale University honoured Haldane by selecting him to deliver the Silliman Lectures. The lectures became the basis for his 1922 book Respiration, which is recognised as a landmark work in the field. Haldane received numerous awards and honours for his work.
He died in 1936.