Every four minutes, someone in Australia is hospitalised for a head injury. This report focuses on a broad range of injuries to the head alone and to both head and neck. Injuries to the eye and orbit are included, as well as Acquired Brain Injury such as Traumatic Brain Injury.

Many visits to hospitals and emergency departments (EDs) are due to a head injury. Although some head injuries are minor, serious or repeated head injuries contribute significantly to the costs of healthcare in Australia . This report presents data on head injuries that resulted in presentation to an emergency department (ED), hospitalisation or death. Additionally, in a first for the AIHW, this report examines medical cause of death free-text fields in the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).

In 2020–21, head injuries resulted in 406,000 ED presentations, 142,000 hospitalisations, and 2,400 deaths. 1,300 deaths were referred to and finalised by the coroner. Head injuries accounted for 21% of all injury ED presentations, 25% of all injury hospitalisation cases, and 17% of all injury deaths. For brevity, injury hospitalisation cases are referred to here as injury hospitalisations. 

Key findings

  • Males made up 2 in 3 head injury ED presentations and deaths, and 55% of head injury hospitalisations
  • Some age groups are over-represented in head injury statistics
    • Children have higher rates of ED presentations for head injuries than adults. Those aged 0–4 years had the highest rate (1 per 20 population), followed by 5–14 year olds (1 per 50)
    • Head injuries contributed to around half of all injury ED presentations and hospitalisations for children aged 0–4 years
    • Australians aged 65 and over tend to have higher rates of head injury hospitalisation and death
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) people, people living in rural and remote parts of Australia and people living in areas of greater socioeconomic disadvantage are disproportionately affected by head injuries
  • Falls and transport were the top two causes for head injury hospitalisations and deaths
    • Head injuries contributed to 1 in 3 fall-related hospitalisations (33%), and more than 1 in 4 fall-related deaths (27%)
    • 63% of all transport hospitalisations in the 0–4 age group involved a head injury
  • 69% of all injury hospitalisations for assault had at least one head injury
  • 24% of all concussive hospitalisations were caused by sport
  • Cycling was associated with the greatest number of sports-related head injury hospitalisations
  • Head injury hospitalisations were more severe than total injury hospitalisations for 4 out of 5 severity measures
  • Nearly a third of head injury hospitalisations involved multiple head injuries
  • Open wounds were the most common type of head injury for ED presentations and hospitalisations (28% and 27% respectively)
  • 1 in 5 head injury ED presentations were for injuries to the eye and orbit
  • Intracranial injuries were the most common site of head injury (22%) among those hospitalised
  • 69% of ED presentations for head injuries were seen within the recommended time following presentation to an ED
  • 1 in 3 ED presentations for head injuries were on a weekend